For the last 19 NBA seasons, up until his announced retirement today on Twitter, one of the league's ultimate constants has been the sight of seven-foot-one-inch Shaquille O'Neal—lithe and explosive early on, hulking and unmovable later, but always unmistakably Shaq—hanging out around or underneath the basket, ready to destroy any mere mortal who dared get in between him and two points. O'Neal was quite possibly the most dominant basketball player of his era, winning four championships, two scoring titles and an MVP award, and getting named to an incredible 15 All-Star appearances. But hoops was not the big man's only claim to fame—Shaq parlayed his on-the-court success into numerous off-the-court ventures, including film, video games, reality TV, law enforcement (yes, really), and of course, hip-hop.
The paths of hoops and hip-hop have intersected numerous times since Kurtis Blow rapped about lovin' that baa-skeeeet-baaaallll back in 1984, but Shaq was the first NBA star to really make something of a career out of rap. Nobody was ever going to be confusing the Big Aristotle with the Notorious B.I.G., but Shaq bettered most baller-crossover attempts by actually managing both a gold album (1993's Shaq Diesel) and a top 40 single (the underrated "(I Know I Got) Skillz"), and actually earned props from none other than Biggie himself, who appeared on Shaq's '97 single "You Can't Stop the Reign." (Label head and friend Diddy claimed that B.I.G. was impressed by Shaq: "Biggie wouldn't really do a record with anybody he didn't really respect...Shaq is a beast. Go hard or go home -- and he really embodied that.") O'Neal released four solo albums at the peak of his celebrity in the mid-90s, and also made guest appearances on songs from artists as big as Snoop Dogg, New Edition, and even Michael Jackson, before unofficially bowing out of the rap game in the 21st century.
Check out a couple representative clips from Shaq's career, starting with his biggest hit, "(I Know I Got) Skillz":
Then, Shaq getting a little deep talking about daddy issues in the "T.R.O.Y."-assisted "Biological Didn't Bother":
And of course, Shaq taking shots at ex-teammate Kobe Bryant in a freestyle dis after Kobe's Lakers lost to the Celtics in the 2008 finals, featuring the unforgettable chorus "Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes!":
Here's hoping that the extra time he'll have without having to worry about working out or learning new defensive schemes (yeah right) will allow him to get back to his regrettably neglected other true passion. The rap game needs you back, Shaq Fu.