Ten questions (and answers) as we ready for a press conference to celebrate the signing of a 38-year-old center. The last time the Celtics brought in a former All-Star center at age 38? Artis Gilmore in 1988. Let's hope this goes a little better. Johnny Kelley was faster at mile 24 in the 1992 Boston Marathon.
And how about this? Per the Celtics PR staff: "Mr. O'Neal will not answer any questions about Kazaam but would be thrilled to discuss Steel at length."
Should be a decent show. Let's take a look at what to expect ...
1. Is this the biggest free agent signing in Boston Celtics history?
In terms of name value, sure, but when it comes to impact the line starts with Don Nelson (legit contributor on five NBA champions). It is amazing, though, how little the Celtics have done over the years in free agency. Just wasn't the way Red Auerbach did things, all his title winners were built through the draft (Bird, Cowens, Hondo, Cousy, McHale, Sam Jones) and trades (Russell, Parish, Silas, Dennis Johnson, Walton, Sharman). The biggest free agent Red brought in over his last 20 years or so as GM was probably M.L. Carr, a nice role player but not much more. And since Red handed over the keys to Dave Gavitt in the early 1990s, it has been way more miss than hit for the Celtics. Xavier McDaniel, Dominique Wilkins, Dana Barros, Travis Knight, Andrew DeClercq, Pervis Ellison. When you look at that list it's almost hard to believe that this franchise went 22 years in between titles, right?
Oh, gotta add James Posey to the winner list. Not quite the impact of Nelson, but I don't think the Celtics win in 2008 without Posey. What he did in Game 4 of the NBA Finals alone earns him a spot.
But Shaq is by far the biggest name free agent signing in team history, and probably the biggest in Boston history. Have any of the other three added a top 15-20 all-time player, even at the end of his career?
2. How long will it take until the first nickname question is asked?
Over/under? 3.5 questions. I'm going under, myself. Bonus points if you identify the media member who asks the question. I'm not going to give my pick away, but I'll just tell you it rhymes with "Reeve Smurton."
3. Will Shaq take a shot at LeBron or Kobe during the press conference?
Nah, Shaq's going to be low-key, I think. You know, the boring Shaq, mumbling and fast-talking his way through a buffet of cliches. I predict best behavior throughout. It's always strange to me how some athletes can be actual human beings at one moment -- funny, laughing, busting chops -- and then go right into cliche zone in an instant when the camera is on. Shaq will do that a lot. You know who else is like that sometimes? Glen Davis. And I'm not sure why they do it. It comes off as more of an act than the wacky stuff. Dustin Pedroia is guilty of this as well. After his three-HR game at Colorado in June he was so dull in his post-game interview with Heidi Watney that I was convinced Jason Varitek must have given him this speech in the ninth inning. Varitek and Nomar, by the way, both majored in "Never saying anything remotely interesting while within 100 yards of a microphone" while at Georgia Tech.
4. With Russell and now Shaq can the Celtics claim that two of the top five centers in NBA history will have worn the Green?
Tough one. The only no-doubters, can't even try to make a case that Shaq is better are Russell, Kareem and Wilt. After that you put Shaq next to anyone and he matches up fine. I'd rather have an in-prime Hakeem or Moses Malone (who no one ever talks about for some reason -- the guy won three MVP's and always killed Kareem head-to-head) over an in-prime Shaq myself, but it's a coin flip.
(There were some whispers late Monday night that Bill Russell was going to show up at the press conference. I'm not saying that's not going to happen, but I think there's a better chance of Roman Polanski taking over for Lucky in 2010-11.)
5. We know Shaq played against the Celtics in the playoffs last year, but is there any other significant Shaq/Celtics history?
Three things, as I recall:
(1) Shaq, of course, gave Paul Pierce his nickname. I don't know, does calling someone "The Truth" count as significant? Let's ask guest judge Stuart Scott: The verdict, BOO-YAH!
(2) The Magic and Shaq played the Celtics in the 1995 playoffs, winning in four games. The Celtics, as an eight seed, actually stole Game 2 in Orlando (after losing Game 1 by 47 points) and had fourth-quarter leads in Game 3 and 4. The series is best remembered for Dino Radja's Game 2 quadruple-double: 20 points, 14 rebounds, 12 Marlboros and 10 bouts of projectile vomiting while watching Eric Montoss try and score in the low post.
(3) A personal favorite: On March 20, 1996 the Celtics hosted the Magic. Totally forgettable regular-season game (Magic won by 22) except for this: Late in the fourth quarter Shaq blocked a Thomas Hamilton shot into the 15th row. I'm not kidding, easily the biggest blocked shot I've ever seen live. Poor Big Ham (if you don't remember Hamilton, well, he was big. Jason Whitlock big. Three seats on a plane big. Can't help but stare big.), he looked legitimately horrified. Shaq's line for that night? 28-12-8.
6. Will Danny Ainge have a comment on Rasheed Wallace?
That would be a "no". And good -- I'm not buying any of this until he actually signs the retirement papers or shows up for training camp. I blame Doc for this one, he fanned the flames right after Game 7 by telling the media that Wallace was going to retire.
(By the way, Shaq has been around so long that he played against his now coach and GM. That's old. My favorite "Shaq has been around forever" example? He played in his first All-Star Game in 1993. The other 23 players in that game have been out of the NBA for a combined 217 years.)
7. What is Shaq's role on this team?
Shhh- no one really knows.
Hold the fort guy until Perkins comes back? Maybe. Backup to Jermaine O'Neal, playing 15-20 minutes a night? Could be. Any reason why he can't be on the floor down the stretch in certain spots, even with Perkins back in the mix? Sure he could, he's a better option in the post if needed.
But an unknown role is fine when the money is so short. As long as Shaq is with the program (big if, admittedly) a defined role really shouldn't be a deal breaker. My best guess? 18.2 minutes a game, 8.6 points, 5.6 rebounds. And that would be terrific production for the money.
8. Can anyone beat this?
Shaq was in Blue Chips with the late, great J.T. Walsh, who was in A Few Good Men with … Kevin Bacon!
(Since Shaq and Kevin Bacon have never been in a movie together the best you can do is tie, I guess. If they ever held a "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" tournament I would be as good a bet as anyone. Really, it's the one thing in the world I have any skill at. Can't be stumped. Speaking of Bacon, how is it possible that they are remaking Footloose and he isn't playing the Lithgow character? Isn't that the easiest casting ever?)
9. So we can expect no surprises at this presser, huh?
Depends on your definition of surprise. From what I've been told, the press conference will open with Shaq, Semih Erden and Luke Harangody coming out on a raised platform, surrounded by flames and pyrotechnics. Basically a shot-by-shot remake of the Wade/Bosh/LeBron egofest, which is fair when you realize that Erden has as many titles as LeBron and Harangody has won as many playoff series as Bosh.
10. When's the next major sports press conference in Boston?
Not counting the Brady contract? I'll go with December 16, when the Red Sox introduce Carl Crawford (six years, $85 million).