Step aside, LeBron.
Pat Riley claims Hall of Fame inductee Shaquille O’Neal stands as the most significant prize the Miami Heat have landed during his 21-year tenure with the team.
“I’ll say this, and I mean this,” Riley told the South Florida Sun Sentinel recently. “Shaq’s acquisition was bigger than any acquisition that we ever made, including the Big Three.”
Alonzo Mourning arrived in Miami with Riley in 1995, and helped redirect the fortunes of a floundering expansion franchise.
A generation then passed before the Heat played in four straight NBA Finals from 2011-14 with the superteam of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
And they won two of them.
But alas, it was O’Neal — not James, not Bosh, not Wade, not Mourning — that gave Riley and the Heat the biggest piece of the puzzle, he said.
“Zo was big, but getting Shaquille changed everything for our franchise,” Riley said, according to the Sun Sentinel.
O’Neal came to the Heat in a July 2004 trade for that sent Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers.
O’Neal and Wade went on to lead Miami on a short-lived run in which they captured the 2006 NBA Finals in six games over the Dallas Mavericks.
O’Neal, along with Allen Iverson, highlights a 10-member class that will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“The seminal moment to really make us really, really legitimate,” Riley said of the O’Neal deal. “He turned our franchise around. He gave us real legitimacy.”