If you’ve been on social media at any point in the last few months, it’s likely you’ve heard the phrase “Celtics’ Shaq.” What does it mean? In short, the phrase is another way of calling someone or something past their prime or “washed up.” To add context, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal joined the Boston Celtics in 2010 at 38 years old. O’Neal, who is still considered the most dominant NBA player to play the game by many, had been considered a shell of his former self while with the Celtics. But how bad was O’Neal truly during his Celtics tenure?

Was Celtics’ Shaq Really That Bad?

Shaquille O’Neal’s Celtics Career

In 37 total games, O’Neal averaged 9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game. All these numbers are far and away career lows for the Hall of Famer. One thing that should be noted, however, is this was the smallest role O’Neal ever assumed in the NBA. After the Orlando Magic drafted O’Neal with the first overall pick of the 1992 draft, the big man immediately became the face of the franchise. O’Neal was on top of the NBA world for nearly two decades. This was the first time he was ever just a role player. Even so, O’Neal eclipsed 20 points in a game twice with the Boston Celtics. This includes a vintage 25-point, 11-rebound performance in a win against the New Jersey Nets.

The biggest downfall of “Celtics Shaq” was his constant injuries. O’Neal played only one game after the All-Star break. In this game, O’Neal played just five minutes off the bench after leaving the game due to injury. O’Neal made his return in the second round of the playoffs against the Miami Heat, but he played just 12 total minutes over two games.

Obviously, O’Neal wasn’t the same guy breaking backboards and terrorizing big men anymore. In fact, the big man acknowledged this in a 2019 interview with Kristine Leahy of Fox Sports 1:

Because one thing I am with myself, I’m honest. I’m Shaq, but I’m not Shaq (in 2010-11). Shaq is not Shaq when he’s averaging seven, eight, nine points (per game). That’s not Shaq. I can still entertain and do stuff to make people giggle, but that’s not Shaq. I’m robbing the people. I’m robbing the Celtics.

Injuries got the best of “Celtics Shaq,” and it ultimately led to the Celtics having a void at the big man position for a few seasons.

The Last Word on Celtics’ Shaq

The Boston Celtics signing O’Neal made sense at the time. Their starting center, Kendrick Perkins, had gone down with an injury during the 2010 NBA Finals and eventually missed the first half of the following season. O’Neal wasn’t the same player he was a decade prior. Still, he was just two seasons removed from an All-Star selection while with the Phoenix Suns. Plus, the plan was for O’Neal to be the starter until Perkins came back. In a controversial move, however, then-GM Danny Ainge traded Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011. The move happened shortly after Perkins returned from his injury. This led to O’Neal taking on a larger role, one he probably wasn’t able to handle at the time.

Verdict: Was “Celtics Shaq” the worst player in NBA history? No. In fact, the Celtics finished 28-9 in the games O’Neal played. And all things considered, the former MVP did his part as a 38-year-old role player. However, considering just how great O’Neal was at his peak, it’s easy to look at his time in Boston and realize something felt off.

Akash Mahi, a dedicated enthusiast of the game, is a recognized expert in the domain of tennis balls. With a keen understanding of materials and aerodynamics, he has contributed to the evolution of tennis ball design, enhancing playability and performance. Mahi's expertise continues to impact both casual players and professionals alike.