Shaq tweets he’s retiring

BOSTON (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal, a 15-time All-Star who struggled to get on the court last season because of injuries, tweeted Wednesday he is going to retire after a 19-year career in which he won four titles and the 2000 league Most Valuable Player award.

O’Neal wrote on Twitter shortly before 2:45 p.m., “im retiring.” It included a link to a 16-second video in which he said, “We did it; 19 years, baby. Thank you very much. That’s why I’m telling you first: I’m about to retire. Love you. Talk to you soon.”

An inveterate prankster who gave himself a new nickname — or several — in each of his six NBA cities, O’Neal did not notify the Boston Celtics, his latest team, of his plans. He played just 37 games this year, the first of a two-year deal at the veteran’s minimum salary, making just three brief appearances after Feb. 1.

“To my knowledge, he has not informed any of us that he’s retiring,” Celtics spokesman Jeff Twiss said.

If he goes, O’Neal retires fifth all-time with 28,596 points, 12th with 13,099 rebounds and a .582 field goal percentage that is second only to Artis Gilmore among players with more than 2,000 baskets. His free throw percentage of .527 — well, now is not the time to dwell on that.

“I’m a little bit sad,” said Pat Riley, the Heat president who was also the coach when O’Neal won a title in Miami. “It’s the end of an absolute 20-year career. Great, great player. ... The league’s going to miss Shaq. I’m sure Shaq will do something big and beyond.”

O’Neal’s contributions to basketball went far beyond his presence on the court.

One of the most charismatic players in NBA history, O’Neal was a franchise-saver when the Orlando Magic made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 draft. He took them from the lottery to the playoffs in two years, and then led them to the NBA finals in his third year before they were swept by the Houston Rockets.

O’Neal, 39, signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996 and had his greatest success there, winning three titles alongside Kobe Bryant and coach Phil Jackson. But amid tension between O’Neal and Bryant after a loss to the Detroit Pistons in the finals, O’Neal was traded to the Heat in the summer of 2004.

After 31⁄2 years in Miami, a tenure that included his fourth NBA championship, O’Neal became a veteran-for-hire, moving to Phoenix and then Cleveland and finally Boston. But he couldn’t deliver another title for Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire with the Suns, with LeBron James with the Cavaliers or with the Celtics’ Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

At each stop, he endeared himself to the fans and his new teammates with his effervescent smile and playful attitude, including the habit of adopting a new nickname he felt embodied his role with his new team. In Phoenix, he was the “Big Shaqtus”; in Boston, the “Big Shamroq.”

He also embraced social networking, amassing almost 4 million followers on his Twitter account, where fans could find out his next move or even the “random acts of Shaqness” — like sitting in Harvard Square, pretending to be a statue, or going out in drag on Halloween.

But O’Neal’s off-court persona couldn’t disguise the fact he was getting old, and while he showed he could still play with younger opponents he couldn’t manage to stay on the court with them. He missed a week in November with a bruised right knee, a week in December with a calf injury and another in January with a sore right hip.

In all, O’Neal averaged just 9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 20.3 minutes this season while playing in 37 games — all career lows.

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