Shaq puts aside ego to win a ring

FRANK ZICARELLI, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

From the moment he first showed his face in his new surroundings, Shaquille O'Neal made it known he was willing to check his ego at the door.

No small feat for the larger-than-life personality that is Shaq Daddy, whose motives have privately been questioned by past teammates.

Save for Kobe Bryant, no one who has taken a pass on the court or won a championship with O'Neal has dared voiced their disapproval.

Steve Nash came close during the Diesel's ill-fated tenure in the desert, but he chose to bite his tongue.

Only in time will followers of Shaq's new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Big Aristotle's new teammates believe the words that were uttered in July at his introductory news conference.

"Win a ring for the king,'' O'Neal said.

LeBron James is the undisputed king in Cleveland, where the future of the franchise rests in LeBron's hands.

James can opt out of his contract next summer.

Every concession and every possible move to surround James with the right pieces have been engineered to put Cleveland in a position to win a title.

James led a very flawed Cavs team to an NBA final appearance in 2007, only to be swept away by the San Antonio Spurs.

He led Cleveland to a 66-win season last year and a berth in the Eastern Conference final, where Orlando upset the Cavs.

Along comes Shaq, who broke into the NBA in Orlando, only to break the hearts of Magic fans by bolting to Los Angeles as a free agent, a fate that may await fans of the Cavs if LeBron leaves.

"I'm not here to get any individual accolades,'' O'Neal said on the eve of the regular season, which tipped off for Cleveland last night at home.

"I've been in the league 17 years and I've won almost every award you can think of. It's our job to make him look good.''

Him, of course, is James, the league's reigning MVP who comes to Toronto to usher in the Raptors' season opener tonight.

How Shaq and James co-exist will determine how far the Cavs go.

"It's probably the best team I've ever played on -- on paper anyway," O'Neal said of his new team.

No doubt there are shooters in Mo Williams and Delonte West, whose personal life has been thrown into complete chaos, but again these guys will be judged in the playoffs.

There is size to complement Shaq in the form of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who suddenly becomes one of the NBA's premier backup bigs.

"When the big fella talks, you have to listen because he has been around a long time and his resume speaks for itself," Cavs head coach Mike Brown said.

On paper, the Raptors looked good last season with the addition of Jermaine O'Neal, who has had a run-in or two with his more famous namesake.

Chris Bosh was finally getting that complementary piece, but it never worked.

It may work in Cleveland, but there's no guarantee.

It is a risk worth taking, however, because the reward is so intoxicating. At the same time, failure could prove devastating.

Shaquille O'Neal turns 38 next month.

His legacy has always been a much-debated topic because Shaq has morphed into something much bigger than just basketball.

Shaq is his generation's Wilt Chamberlain.

He will go down as one of the game's true elite.

He now has a chance to be in that pantheon of greatness if Shaq can somehow deliver on getting James a ring.

And by extension, Shaq might be saving a franchise.

FRANK.ZICARELLI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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