O'Neal extends gesture to predecessor's family
MIAMI -- Shaquille O'Neal wants to pay more than respects to the family of George Mikan.
O'Neal said Thursday that he wants the Mikan family to contact the Miami Heat offices, so arrangements can be made for him to handle funeral expenses for the league's first dominant big man.
Mikan died Wednesday night at a rehabilitation center in Scottsdale, Ariz., following a long fight with diabetes and kidney ailments. He was 80.
"I'd like to send my condolences to the Mikan family," O'Neal said after Miami beat Detroit 88-76 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night. "I heard they were having some trouble, some problems, so if you contact the Heat office, I would like to pay for the funeral."
O'Neal credits Mikan as someone who helped lay the framework for what the NBA is today.
"Without No. 99, there is no me," said O'Neal, referring to Mikan by his jersey number.
Terry Mikan said he appreciated O'Neal's offer but said it would be up to his mother whether to accept it.
"It just speaks to what Shaquille is all about," Mikan's son said. "He had a bond with my dad. They were close friends."
O'Neal and Mikan were both selected to the NBA's list of 50 greatest players, and the two dominant big men of their eras met several times.
"He was a great man. We had many, many conversations," O'Neal said. "Very nice to me. I know what he was and I know what he did."
Both O'Neal and Mikan led the Lakers franchise to multiple NBA championships; Mikan carried the Minneapolis Lakers to five titles in a six-year span, O'Neal led the Los Angeles Lakers to three consecutive championships from 2000-2002.
"Frankly, without George Mikan, the Los Angeles Lakers would not be the organization we are today," said Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss.
Others at the Eastern Conference finals offered their sentiments on Mikan, including Heat president Pat Riley, who called Mikan "the model for all big men that followed him."
"A truly genuine human being as well as a great player. He made the game what it is today," Riley said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press