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LSU Retires Grad Shaq's Number

It was once a familiar scene at LSU the capacity crowd chanting "Shaq! Shaq! Shaq!" as Shaquille O'Neal strode onto the court.

O'Neal, accompanied by his mother, Lucille Harrison, received a sustained standing ovation Saturday night as LSU retired his purple and gold No. 33 jersey.

"In the history of LSU we've only had four numbers retired," LSU athletic director Joe Dean said. "Billy Cannon (football), Bob Petit, and Pistol Pete Maravich. Now we're adding Shaquille O'Neal."

LSU unfurled O'Neal's jersey between those of Maravich and Petit on Saturday night, following up Friday's commencement ceremonies in which the Los Angeles Lakers center received his bachelor of arts degree.

"I asked Joe Dean a long time ago when he was going to retire my jersey," O'Neal said. "And he said he'd do it as soon as I got my degree. Well, I did and he did."

O'Neal's old coach, Dale Brown, felt the honor should have come a long time ago.

"Academics are academics and athletics are athletics," Dean said. "I'm very, very proud of what he did, earning his degree, but what he did as an athlete earned him this honor long ago."

O'Neal left LSU after three years for the NBA, but told the crowd Saturday that his time at the school was special.

"I've done a lot of things," O'Neal said. "But the years between 1989 and 1992 was the best time of my life."

Getting his degree and having his number retired were in the top five events in his life, O'Neal said. Being just the third LSU basketball player to have his number retired was really special.

"It really means something to be part of history," O'Neal said. "Someday, along about 2015 some kid will ask his father, `Who, was that guy Maravich?' and his dad will say he was some tall white guy that played basketball here. Then he'll ask, `Who was that guy O'Neal?' And his dad will say, he was some tall black guy that played basketball here and it will be part of this history."

O'Neal missed a game against the Vancouver Grizzlies so he could attend graduation on Friday. He flew out after the ceremony on Saturday to rejoin the Lakers in Toronto for Sunday's game against the Raptors.

Although he was pressed for time, O'Neal took time after the award to walk the length of the student section slapping hands and talking to fans, many of whom had chanted "One more year," earlier, referring to O'Neal's earlier exit from the school.

"I especially remember this section," O'Neal said.

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