Shaquille O'Neal was a free agent looking for a place to land last summer. The Thunder was roughly $8 million under the NBA salary cap at the time, with plenty of money to fill its tank with Diesel.
Oh, the possibilities.
What follows is tongue-in-cheek — pretty much, at least — but let me be very clear: I love me some Love Shaq.
The Big Aristotle is in his 19th season and is the oldest player in the league at 38. The 7-foot-1, 325(ish)-pound center signed a two-year deal with the Boston Celtics worth the league minimum of just under $1.4 million per season.
Cactus Shaq said he wanted to finish his career with the storied franchise. Had he joined the Thunder, he would have helped a franchise become the story.
For the Thunder to have approached Shaq Daddy would have been surprising. The team's general manager is Sam Presti Esq., not Ringling Bros. Presti's job is to build a successful franchise that can sustain itself, not to bring the circus to town for a year or two.
But Shaqovic could have been a notable contributor to the Thunder's "Rise Together," an organization that genuinely embraces the community. Think anybody would draw a bigger crowd for a public appearance than the NBA's original Superman?
Dr. Shaq has more Twitter followers than any athlete in the world (3,315,156 at last count; roughly nine times as many as Kevin Durant).
What makes the Big Cactus so darn lovable is he's a hall of famer who freely acknowledges his time on center stage has now passed. He defers to the team's reigning stars. He did so for Dwyane Wade in Miami, for Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire in Phoenix, for LeBron James in Cleveland, and now for the Big Four in Boston (heck, yes, Rajon Rondo should be included).
Shaqtus gladly would have stepped aside in OKC and given the stage to Durant, Russell Westbrook and a Thunderous herd of 20-somethings.
Come game time, the Big Felon could have planted himself down low for the Thunder, occupying space that frequently needs to be occupied, particularly with Nick Collison on the mend and Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens still so raw.
Granted, the Big Barychnikov has lost a step or two, or three. He is playing nowhere near his career averages of 24 points and 11 rebounds, but numbers half that size more than justifies his minimum salary. Think the Thunder would accept 12 points and 5.5 rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time right now?
The Big Galactus has averaged 52 games per season since leaving the Lakers in 2004, but he still has worth, particularly to a third-year franchise still in the honeymoon stage.
The Thunder could have had a hall of famer in its locker room. Players could have gone to chapel services one hour before tipoff as usual, then perhaps punctuated it with a passage from Lord Shaq.
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NAME THAT SHAQ
Upon Shaquille O'Neal's arrival in Boston, a Twitter poll asked fans to choose a new moniker for the man who already leads the planet in nicknames.
The listed choices were Red Auershaq, Shaqachusetts, The Big Leprechaun, The Big Shamrock, Tip-in O'Neal, Big Adult, The Big Dig It and The Green Monster.
At last check, Green Monster (32 percent) was ahead, followed by Big Shamrock (25 percent), Big Leprechaun (16 percent) and Shaqachusetts (14 percent).
The 7-foot-1, 325-pound O'Neal said he was once a T-ball All-Star and a high school first baseman with the "world's biggest strike zone."
He was known as Shaqqie Robinson (Jackie Robinson) as a little kid. When he pitched, he was The Big Black Unit (Randy Johnson).
O'Neal was respectful last summer during his "Shaq Vs." episode against St. Louis Cardinal slugger Albert Pujols.
"Usually I try to get into the mind of my opponent," O'Neal said, "but I don't think it's wise to talk smack to a man who always has a bat in his hands."