Updated February 15th, 2024 at 15:29 IST

Shaquille O'Neal's No. 32 jersey is the first to be retired by the Orlando Magic

Shaquille O'Neal was Orlando's first in lots of ways. First No. 1 overall draft pick. First player to make an All-Star team in a Magic uniform. First rookie of the year. First All-NBA selection.

Shaquille O'Neal | Image:AP
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Shaquille O'Neal was Orlando's first in lots of ways. First No. 1 overall draft pick. First player to make an All-Star team in a Magic uniform. First rookie of the year. First All-NBA selection. And the first big-time superstar to leave the franchise.

It's that last part that he figured might cost him.

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O'Neal never thought that the Magic would raise his jersey to the rafters of their arena. But he was wrong, and on Tuesday night, Orlando retired O'Neal's No. 32 — another first for the team and its first star.

“You know, there’s an old saying: never forget where you come from," O'Neal said. “And my professional career started here. I’ve been living here mostly all my life. The fans have been hospitable. The people have been very, very hospitable. I never thought this day would happen.”

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The Magic, who are celebrating their 35th season, drafted O'Neal No. 1 overall in 1992. They've never retired a number for a player, but decided their anniversary season was the right time.

“There’s no one more deserving to be the first than Shaq," Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “Shaq put the Orlando Magic on the map. And the foundation of his Hall of Fame career started right here in Orlando.”

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O’Neal — who has No. 34 retired by the Los Angeles Lakers and No. 32 retired by the Miami Heat — is the third player to have his jersey retired by three franchises, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Pete Maravich.

Chamberlain’s No. 13 has been retired by the Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors and the Lakers. Maravich had No. 44 retired by the Atlanta Hawks and No. 7 retired by the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans — even though he never played for that franchise. His number is retired in New Orleans because he played there for the Jazz and went to LSU.

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“It means that every franchise you played for, they enjoyed you,” O'Neal said. “The fans enjoyed you. The people enjoyed you. They appreciated your hard work.”

There are 11 players — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Clyde Drexler, Julius Erving, Elvin Hayes, Bob Lanier, Moses Malone, Earl Monroe, Dikembe Mutombo, Oscar Robertson, Nate Thurmond and Charles Barkley — to have jerseys retired by two franchises for whom they played. Barkley, like O’Neal, is part of the award-winning cast of Turner Sports’ “Inside The NBA” program.

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Many other players have been honored by multiple teams or in multiple ways. Bill Russell’s No. 6 is retired by Boston and, after the Hall of Famer’s death, was retired leaguewide by Commissioner Adam Silver. Michael Jordan never played in Miami; his No. 23 is retired there. Kobe Bryant had both of his numbers, 8 and 24, retired by the Lakers.

The Magic were 70-176 in their first three seasons, then got O’Neal and went 41-41 in his rookie year, 50-32 with the team’s first playoff appearance in his second season, 57-25 with a trip to the NBA Finals in 1994-95 and finally 60-22 — still the franchise record for wins — in his fourth and final season with Orlando.

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O'Neal learned how to be a pro in Orlando. His first few months in the city, he said, were spent living in an airport hotel with his entire family. By the time Dennis Scott explained to him that he needed to buy a house, O'Neal said he had run up a $900,000 hotel bill.

He speaks with reverence about his time in Orlando, and now having gone through four jersey retirements — LSU also gave him the honor, along with the three NBA clubs — O'Neal made no secret of what this one meant.

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“Truthfully speaking, this will probably be the most impressive one,” O'Neal said.

O’Neal left Orlando after the 1995-96 season for the Lakers, having played 295 regular-season games with the Magic. But he remains sixth on the team’s all-time scoring list — four of the five players ahead of him played at least twice as many games for Orlando — and third all-time in rebounds for the Magic.

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“This is where it all started,” O'Neal said.

And it's where his number will sway.

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Published February 15th, 2024 at 15:29 IST