BEST HEAT PLAYER Shaquille O'Neal
Sure, the way young Dwyane Wade dunks over opposing centers and dishes out dimes like candy at a parade is a thing of grace and grandeur. The way Damon Jones, who looks more like your neighbor than an NBA guard, swagger-skips down the court after one of his automatic three balls brings smiles. And the rest, a gathering of talent that brought a season of joy to this sports-loving city, deserve commendation. But the abundant wins, the reason the seats filled up for each game, the Heat's ability to spend so much time this year as odds-on favorites for the Eastern Conference crown can all be attributed to the fact that the most dominant center in the league for the past ten years now wears the black and red. When the team traded its entire starting front three for Shaq, it received much more than an athlete. He's a Greek play in four periods, the human colossus, court jester and king, Santa Claus on Christmas, and the Fort Knox of NBA hardware. Other teams can't stop him because, as he says, "I'm like the Pythagorean theorem: No one has an answer to my game." With a nickname for any occasion -- from the Big Aristotle to Shaq Shogun to the Big Diesel -- he never takes himself too seriously. He jokes with the media, is generous to the fans and the community, and is beloved by his peers. Shaq's main contribution has been the way he's created off-court camaraderie with the other players by engaging them in social activities. Going to movies or dinner together may not be much at first glance, but many marriages, and perhaps one championship, have been built on same. Take a big smirking bow, number 32.
Readers´ Choice: Dwyane Wade