The Big Statue: Lakers celebrate Shaquille O'Neal with giant dunking bronze monument

The Los Angeles Lakers paid the ultimate tribute to one of their greatest players on Friday, celebrating the outsized contributions and outsized personality of center Shaquille O’Neal by unveiling a mammoth statue of the Hall of Famer that will join the other iconic figures standing outside Staples Center.

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But unlike the monuments to Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Oscar De La Hoya and Lakers announcer Chick Hearn that reside in the courtyard across from the L.A. Live complex, the bronze recreation of O’Neal designed by Omri Amrany and Julie Rotblatt Amrany won’t technically be “standing.” It’ll be dunking, suspended from a building, hanging 10 feet off the ground to terrorize opposing big men (and pedestrians concerned about falling statues) for years to come.

Shaquille O'Neal will be dunking outside Staples Center forever. (Photo via @NBA)
Shaquille O’Neal will be dunking outside Staples Center forever. (Photo via @NBA)

The unveiling came after a special ceremony held outside Staples Center on Friday evening that featured plenty of Laker royalty, including team president Jeanie Buss; franchise icons Abdul-Jabbar and West, who brought O’Neal to Hollywood in the summer of 1996 in one of the great free-agent coups in NBA history; head coach Phil Jackson, who coached O’Neal to three NBA titles and his lone NBA Most Valuable Player award; and former teammates Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Gary Payton, Ron Harper, Devean George, Brian Cook, Elden Campbell and, of course, the immortal …

Laker talisman and newly minted president of basketball operations Magic Johnson couldn’t make the ceremony, as he was out on the road scouting at the NCAA tournament, but he did send along a video tribute congratulating O’Neal and celebrating all he accomplished during his time in Los Angeles:

Even bitter enemies had to come to pay their respects.

The ceremony featured light moments, including an on-target zing by Cap:

… and Kobe recounting how he knew the Lakers would knock off the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs because of a look and a story Shaq shared with him in the back of the bus on the way to the game:

… as well as some more emotional ones, like West saying that playing a part in bringing O’Neal to Los Angeles was one of the accomplishments of which he’s most proud in a life full of remarkable achievement:

… and praise from his children that had the Most Dominant Ever dabbing his eyes:

The Lakers first revealed plans for the statue as a surprise during an appearance by O’Neal on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” back in January of 2016, and announced just before Christmas that the unveiling would come this Friday, ahead of L.A.’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The pregame ceremony featured a number of speakers, each waxing nostalgic about O’Neal’s time in Lakerland and offering only gentle, winking nods toward the distemper that attended his departure. This was a day for venerating a legend, after all, not for revisiting old grudges, and while Shaq began his career with the Orlando Magic and continued it with the Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics after his stint in Los Angeles, those in attendance at L.A. Live on Friday were choosing to remember only his salad days in forum blue and gold.

The Lakers retired O’Neal’s jersey in 2013 in recognition of the dominance he displayed during his eight-year stay in Hollywood. After joining the team in the summer of 1996, O’Neal helped lead the Lakers to seven 50-win seasons, four NBA Finals berths and three consecutive NBA championships between 2000 and 2002.

O’Neal averaged 27 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in 514 regular-season contests as a Laker, making seven All-Star appearances as a Laker, earned eight All-NBA berths (six on the First Team) and notched five top-five finishes in Most Valuable Player voting, winning the Podoloff trophy after the 1999-2000 season. He was also named Finals MVP after each of the Lakers’ titles.

Shaq stands as one of only eight players to score more than 13,000 points in a Lakers uniform, six to grab more than 6,000 rebounds, 18 to dish more than 1,500 assists, and three to block more than 1,000 shots. Only he and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — whose Staples statue was unveiled in November of 2012 — have done all of that.

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There have been many legendary big men in the history of the NBA, and many iconic players who have worn the uniform of one of the league’s marquee franchises. What always set O’Neal apart, though, was his sheer, inarguable, unavoidable size and scope — the shadow he cast, literally and figuratively, as our Kelly Dwyer wrote of the Big Aristotle back in the summer of 2011:

Ask any current or former player, and they’ll tell you that O’Neal’s literal stature gave opponents or teammates pause more than any other contemporary they’d ever been around. These men have been around Kareem, Wilt, Yao, Dwight Howard or even David Robinson’s squared shoulders, and yet it was Shaq that drew the second look. The man just exuded bigness. And, amongst all the proper big men this league has seen, he was the one most proud of his largesse.

The challenge of communicating that titanic physicality in static form fell to Amrany, the artist responsible for the other Staples statues, as well as the monuments to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago, Wilt Chamberlain in Philadelphia, Vince Lombardi in Green Bay and more. That led Amrany to revisit an idea he’d been toying with for some time, according to Lang Whitaker of

Regarding specifically Shaquille, for 25 years I’m thinking of and designing pieces which are floating up in the air, above gravity, above no bases. And the Lakers allowed me as an artist for the first time to really create this terrifying experience of standing under Shaq’s shoes, and waiting for him to come at you. I think of just the element of surprise, when you stand under it and you see this 1,500-pound, massive element coming at you, that you realize what other players on the court experienced every night. He became a form of art on his own.

The idea to elevate the statue 10 feet off the ground grew out of a desire to honor how untouchable Shaq was at his peak, according to Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“When I talked to the Lakers’ management, the discussion was … people want to touch Shaquille,” Amrany tells Bleacher Report over the phone from his home in Illinois. “I said, ‘Yes, people want to touch Shaquille—but wouldn’t it be stronger to have the quest to touch instead of (actually) touching?'” […]

“I feel [with the Shaq statue] that instead of the touching and hugging, it’s the desire,” he says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people spent their time jumping, trying to touch it, which is OK, you know? It’s part of how people use contemporary art today—the interaction with the public.”

The designers certainly didn’t skimp on the details, as noted by ESPN’s Jovan Buha:

The Lakers list the statue as 9 feet tall and 1,200 pounds, but Amrany said in the interviews with Schilling and Whitaker that it’s really 9 1/2 feet tall and 1,500 pounds. That feels perfect; few NBA players have ever been as aptly described as “larger than life,” or had their exploits as firmly relegated to the stuff of legend, as Shaquille O’Neal. In five years’ time, dads will be telling their kids it’s 15 feet tall, weighs two tons, and still sends Chris Dudley to the Upside Down with a baseline spin move every full moon, which is just the way things should be. (Sorry, Chris Dudley.)

The famously loquacious O’Neal is hardly ever at a loss for words, but he did tell Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times this week that finding out he’d be joining the likes of Magic, Kareem, the Logo and Chick was “a very surreal moment.”

“Unexpected,” he said. “I still think there’s a couple other guys that probably deserve a statue more than me. Like ‘Big Game’ James [Worthy] and Wilt Chamberlain. But I’m honored. They’re giving me a statue in front of the place I like to say I built. Staples does start with S.”

After thanking all those who played their parts in bringing him to L.A. and making him so wildly successful during his tenure, O’Neal reached back into his bag of catchphrases for the time-honored words of Cyrus from “The Warriors.”

They can, they have, they did and they will, every time they look up at that half-ton of dunk, as fine and fitting a means of remembering The Big Aristotle, aka Shaq Diesel, aka Wilt Chamberneezy, as one could possible imagine.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!