MIAMI — Shaquille O’Neal helped the Miami Heat put up their first championship banner, and soon another banner will sway over the team’s home floor in his honour.
The Heat announced Tuesday that they will retire O’Neal’s No. 32 at the beginning of next season. He becomes the third player to get such a designation from the Heat, joining Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.
Miami is also the second team to retire an O’Neal jersey, after the Los Angeles Lakers did so with the No. 34 he donned for that franchise.
"Shaquille O’Neal is one of the truly elite players in the history of the game and one of the greatest players to ever wear a Heat uniform," Heat President Pat Riley said. "He took us to another level as a basketball franchise while leading us to our first NBA championship."
Miami has also retired No. 23 in Michael Jordan's honour for contributions he made to basketball, but Jordan never played for the Heat.
While the breakup with O'Neal wasn't pleasant when he essentially forced Miami into trading him to Phoenix in 2008, the contributions that the Hall of Famer made to the franchise have never been questioned -- or forgotten. Among players with at least 1,000 field goals for Miami, no one has a better shooting percentage than O'Neal, who is fifth on the team's all-time list in blocks despite only playing with the Heat for 3 1-2 seasons.
"Retiring his number in the rafters, along with Heat greats Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, is something we are very proud of," Riley said.
Other numbers likely to be retired by the Heat in future years include Dwyane Wade's No. 3, LeBron James' No. 6 and Udonis Haslem's No. 40.