In a recent story looking back over Shaq’s NBA career, the big man talked about his championship-winning season with the Miami Heat, and the way a certain young star took over the series.
Of course O’Neal played with a lot of superstars and legends in his own playing days. Mainly for the Los Angeles Lakers, but also – later in his career – with the Miami Heat. There was also some time spent with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics, but that’s not so important…
Setting the WayBack Machine for the end of the 2006 season, Shaq was playing with another established superstar on the Heat, Gary Payton. Also on the team was a guy just getting his iconic career started… a flashy young kid names Dwyane Wade.
After a great season, the Heat landed in the NBA Championship series against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat where probably favored in that series – c’mon, it was Shaq, right? – but the path to the trophy was definitely not smooth sailing.
With Dirk’s leadership, the Mavs took a fast 2-0 lead in the Finals series. It seemed hopes for a Championship for the team from South Beach were about to hit the rocks (sailing metaphor there…). But as Shaq later tells it, there was one moment that changed everything.
Shaq says it was Payton who figured it out. Shaq: “Gary finally came to me and said, ‘You ain’t got it, I ain’t got it, it’s time to give it to the young fella D-Wade.’ And because I had the respect for Gary, we listened and we were able to win four games in a row. That’s all we needed.”
That year, Gary Payton was – in NBA terms, anyway – quite the senior player. At 37 years old, the team was probably thinking he’d give some quality minutes off the bench and definitely chip in with his years of experience.
Again, Shaq: “After the terrible second game, Gary came to the locker room. I don’t know if he took a shower. ‘Hey man, you promised me, big dawg you get me a ring. You need to let D-Wade do his thing.’ We had that conversation, we turned the thing over to D-Wade and we all agreed this is the young fella show.”
The two experienced players had what must have been a “big brother to little brother” talk. Payton saw that the Heat offense should go through Wade, who, at the time, was a rising star ready to take the next step.
Payton was obviously right. The Heat pulled it together in typical Miami-flashy style…. Going on to win four straight games and claiming the 2006 NBA Championship Title.
Shaq and the Heat visiting the White House after 2006 NBA Championship.
As for D-Wade, it was definitely a coming-out celebration. He ended up claiming the Finals MVP Award, averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. Heat fans will never forget his work in the pivotal Game 3, where he scored 42 points and made the game-winning shot… changing the momentum of the series to the Heat.
Credit to Shaq for recognizing Payton’s good assessment of the situation, and his being willing to let D-Wade shine. Talking about his friends over the years, O’Neal has said several times, “Those names hold a special place in my heart. Because if it wasn’t for them, I would not have four (championships).”