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NBA Finals notebook

Former teammates give praise to Shaq

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 3, 2011

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MIAMI — While there will long be debate about Shaquille O’Neal’s place amongst the all-time greats and whether he gave a maximum effort throughout his 19-year career, there is no debate about his impact on the NBA as the league loses one of its legendary personalities.

Friends and adversaries had nothing but compliments yesterday when news spread of the big man’s retirement. There is general speculation that O’Neal may attempt a return once his sore Achilles’ tendon and foot heal, but for now he’s done.

O’Neal came to Miami as a savior in 2004 and left in 2008 with harsh words for the Heat’s training staff because of a lingering hip injury and unkind remarks about superstar Dwyane Wade. Wade has been mum about O’Neal throughout the postseason, leaving such reflections to another of O’Neal’s former teammates, LeBron James, during the series with the Celtics. But after posting a flattering tweet Wednesday, Wade continued his praise.

“First of all, I’m thinking of 19 years,’’ Wade said before last night’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals. “As a teammate, I’m always appreciative of the opportunity to play with one of the greats ever to put on an NBA jersey. I really learned a lot from him as a professional. We had some great years together. I’m humbled and totally honored to have been a teammate, just seeing the dominance of what he did will never be forgotten and what he did off the court, always fun-loving. Overall, a great career as a person and a player.’’

James played one season with O’Neal in Cleveland, though O’Neal missed the final 29 regular-season games with a broken right thumb and never reached full strength for the 2010 playoffs.

“Even before I had him as a teammate, being around him during All-Star Games, being around him in the offseason, he was a great person, I think everybody knows what he’s able to do when he had a basketball uniform on,’’ James said. “He was just as great off the court as he was on.’’

After hearing those comments, O’Neal released a video response supporting the Heat for an NBA title.

“LeBron, D-Wade, I just saw the comments you said about me, appreciate it very much, it was an honor playing with you two guys,’’ he said on Twitter.

Heat president Pat Riley acquired the big man in the summer of 2004 and motivated O’Neal to get into premium shape to prove wrong those who said he was done at 32.

O’Neal rewarded Riley with the Heat’s first title in 2006.

“He had a great career,’’ said Riley. “I heard something a week ago that said if he retired, he was going to do it for one reason and that is to take Charles Barkley’s job and tell the truth about the Miami Heat. If he’s retiring for that reason, then I’m all for it.

“I had the privilege of coaching a lot of great centers. I watched Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retire, went through a whole year of ceremonies. He was being honored in every city. I was there with Patrick [Ewing]. I was there with Zo [Alonzo Mourning] and I was there with Shaquille. It has been an honor to coach great, great players. He was one of the greatest of all time.’’

Nowitzki has a hand Dirk Nowitzki prepared feverishly before Game 2, as he usually does. But this time he was wearing a white piece of tape around his left middle finger. Nowitzki tore a tendon late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 Tuesday night. Since then, Nowitzki’s finger has been the talk of what has become a pretty news-dry Finals.

Nowitzki has said he is not feeling much discomfort, and the Heat fully expected him to play at 100 percent after his 7-for-18 shooting in Game 1.

Nowitzki didn’t seem to have many limitations in the Mavericks’ series-tying 95-93 victory, scoring 24 points on 10-of-22 shooting, including the winning layup with 3.6 seconds left.

“Dirk has played with a lot of injuries,’’ Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said before the game. “He’s played hurt. It’s one of the reasons he’s becoming a legendary player. Some of the things he’s gone through and some of the things he’s played with and how quickly he’s bounced back. He’s never going to be a guy to complain about those kinds of things. I know he’s not going to make an issue of it.’’

Job watch After being passed up in favor of Kevin McHale for the Rockets’ coaching job and being excluded among serious candidates for the top job in Golden State, Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank has been mentioned for the Raptors’ job along with Dallas assistant Dwane Casey.

Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo said he wanted a more defensive-minded coach, and Frank was in charge of the Celtics’ No. 1-rated defense this season. Celtics coach Doc Rivers would be hard-pressed to replace Frank after losing Tom Thibodeau to the Bulls last season.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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