April 1, 2017

And Then There Was Shaq

When I visited Los Angeles last year for the Wizards' annual roadie with the hometown Clippers, I spent some time checking out the collection of statues in Star Plaza, the open pedestrian area just north of Staples Center, the place where the Clips play their home games in L.A. Because there are no Clippers legends worth erecting a statue of (or just that there are no Clippers legends period), I spent most of my time there photographing statues of legendary Lakers, the team that shares the building with the Clips.

When I got back from the west coast, I spent a few moments banging out a post on this blog describing what I'd found, namely statues of former Lakers players Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson and their legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn in addition to glossing over the fact that Wayne Gretzky and Oscar De La Hoya also have bronze likenesses of themselves in that spot. Hey, it's a blog about being a Wizards fan, so basketball statues get preferential treatment over hockey players and boxers.

This year I had the good fortune of being out in Los Angeles for work in a week that the Wizards were in town to battle both of the basketball residents of Staples Center. When I got there I found one more statue. And of course it's a Laker, not a Clipper. Welcome Shaquille O'Neal to Star Plaza.

I guess there's a chance that some readers of this blog might not have known who Jerry West and Chick Hearn were. There's a slimmer chance (although I guess it still exists) that there are a handful of folks out there who are not completely familiar with the careers of Kareem and Magic. But if you don't know who Shaq is and you consider yourself an NBA fan, you have to be living under some kind of rock.

Shaq's time in Los Angeles was shorter than it probably could have been, relatively contentious and extremely successful. He played in Laker purple and gold for eight seasons from the 1996-1997 season through the 2003-2004 season. He was an All-Star every year he spent in Los Angeles except one (1999); won three consecutive NBA Championships from 2000 to 2002; was the NBA Finals MVP each of the three title years; and won his lone Most Valuable Player award (in 2000).

Ultimately, Shaq kind of wore out his welcome in Tinseltown and was shipped off to the Miami Heat before the 2004-2005 season, where he ended up winning another championship in 2006. The tipping point for the Lakers to trade the most dominant big man in the game for three players and a single first round draft pick was his relationship or lack thereof with the Lakers' other star, Kobe Bryant. Shaq was 32 when he was traded away from L.A.; Kobe was 25. Since the Lakers won two more titles after the trade, it's hard to argue that they did the wrong thing. But just think about what they could have done if they just could have gotten along.

The first six statues in Star Plaza are all planted firmly on the ground. Shaq's is not; it's hanging from the side of the building.

I honestly think Shaq's statue is in an awkward spot. Sure, it's right near the main entrance to the building but the fact that he's mounted right on an inside corner of the building makes it seem like he's sort of shoved into a spot that should be out of the way. Maybe it's the only place that could structurally support a statue that weighs that much but for me, it would be a way better spot visually if they would have slid him to the west a little and had him attached to the exterior corner of one of the terraces overlooking Star Plaza.  Don't get me wrong, it's not like he's difficult to miss. A statue the actual size of a man Shaq's size would have a presence; this one is bigger. 

It's pretty difficult to get a good photo of bronze Shaq without getting a lot of crotch (top photo) or butt (photo above) at the spot he's in but this thing has some impressive details. On each of the Star Plaza Lakers statues, there's a muted purple and gold uniform. Shaq's is a little less muted, which I think looks better and some of the details, like the Shaq logo on the sneakers, are pretty cool. I also like the basketball in motion as it's passing through the hoop Shaq is hanging off. 

I think this statue is well deserved. I just think they could have made it more pedestrian viewing friendly.

I don't expect that I'll be headed back to Los Angeles any time soon for my next Wizards game. Of course, I didn't expect to be here this year so you never know. But I'm willing to bet the next time I'm there, there will be a sixth Laker statue: Kobe Bryant. I'm predicting it will be remote from Shaq and that it will have a number 24 jersey (the one he won his last two titles in without Shaq) rather than a number 8 (first three titles). 

I'm also predicting that next time I'm in Star Plaza there still won't be any Clippers' statues.

Wizards have one more roadie tomorrow night before heading back to Verizon Center. Just two more weeks left in the season. Let's finish strong they keep it going for the playoffs.

Shaq hanging off the building while Wayne Gretzky waves to the fans.

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