Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in March 2002. The Lakers won their… (Los Angeles Times / July…)
With optimism blooming over the Lakers' prospects for another NBA championship, there will be plenty of reminders that hark back to their winning past.
Former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, who won three NBA championships here from 2000 to 2002, will have his No. 34 jersey retired April 2 at Staples Center in a halftime ceremony when the Lakers host the Dallas Mavericks. Former Lakers forward Jamaal Wilkes, who helped to win three NBA titles during the team's Showtime Era, will have his No. 52 jersey retired Dec. 28 at Staples Center at halftime when the Lakers host the Portland Trail Blazers.
O'Neal and Wilkes will join Wilt Chamberlain (No. 13), Elgin Baylor (No. 22), Gail Goodrich (No. 25), Magic Johnson (No. 32), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (No. 33), James Worthy (No. 42) and Jerry West (No. 44) on the Staples Center rafters. All seven of those players are members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Wilkes is part of the 2012 class that will be inducted Sept. 8 into the Hall at Springfield, Mass. O'Neal, who ended his 19-year career in 2011, won't be eligible for the Hall of Fame until 2016. But he is certain to be a sure-fire first-ballot inductee.
The Lakers earlier announced they will unveil a statue of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at Staples Center's Star Plaza on Nov. 16. Abdul-Jabbar's statue will join those of former Lakers greats Johnson and Jerry West, former Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn, former Kings star Wayne Gretzky and former boxer Oscar De La Hoya.
O'Neal and Wilkes had great years with the Lakers.
Overall, O'Neal was on four NBA championship teams, won three Finals most-valuable-player awards, one regular-season MVP award and had 15 All-Star appearances. He is in fifth place on the league's all-time scoring list (28,596 points) and cemented his legacy as one of the NBA's dominant centers.
Although O'Neal played on six NBA teams, including the Orlando Magic, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, most of his professional success happened during his eight seasons with the Lakers. After signing with the team as a free agent in 1996 on a seven-year, $120-million deal, O'Neal breathed life into an organization that had foundered since the Showtime Era, and, with Kobe Bryant, he led the way to three consecutive NBA championships. O'Neal averaged 27 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 blocks in 514 regular-season games with the Lakers, a jump from his career averages of 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks.
The relationship with O'Neal and the Lakers suffered at times. His ongoing drama with Bryant and Phil Jackson, questions about his work ethic and injury history and a $30-million-a-year salary demand prompted Lakers owner Jerry Buss to trade O'Neal in 2004 to the Miami Heat.
Despite O'Neal's frequent digs at the organization, Bryant and Jackson, the relationship has at least warmed. At the encouragement of former Celtics center Bill Russell, O'Neal and Bryant made peace in 2006. O'Neal accepted the Lakers' invitation to attend the unveiling of West's statue during All-Star weekend in 2011. And Buss released a statement immediately after O'Neal's retirement thanking him for his contributions to the Lakers.
"Jerry Buss, Jeanie Buss, I just heard the news that you're going to retire my jersey. Thank you very much," O'Neal said on Tout, a social media site. "I love you guys. We had a lot of fun. I appreciate you baby. I owe you one. You're going to make me cry, Jerry Buss."
Meanwhile, Wilkes' finished 10th place in Laker history in career points (10,601) and ninth in steals in his eight-year stint (1977-85) with the team. In the Lakers' title-clinching Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wilkes posted 37 points and 10 rebounds. His overall consistency earned him the nickname "Silk." And famed Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn described Wilkes' outside shot as the "20-foot layup."
Wilkes, who also was on an NBA championship team in 1975 with the Golden State Warriors, told The Times in April that "I always put emphasis on winning and team play."
"With Golden State I handled the ball more," Wilkes said. "With the Lakers and the great point guards, I learned to play without the ball. As a player, I always tried to put the best interest of the team first, and hopefully I could excel within that."
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