PHOENIX, Arizona -- NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal has left struggling Miami Heat to join the Phoenix Suns in a blockbuster deal that has surprised the basketball world.
O'Neal signals to fans as he watches the New-Orleans-Phoenix game.
The trade sees four-time All-Star Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks switch from the Suns to the Heat who have lost 19 of their last 20 games.
The improbable pairing of the speedy Suns and the slow but once-mighty O'Neal became official when he cleared a physical exam on Wednesday.
O'Neal didn't talk to reporters, but he received a loud, long standing ovation when introduced on the big screen while watching the New Orleans-Phoenix game from a suite at US Airways Center on Wednesday night.
First, he stood to acknowledge the cheers with both arms open. He sat down again, but as the cheers continued, he got up once more. He pointed to his ring finger, then gave a thumbs up. The crowd went wild.
The trade, a dramatic move by first-year Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr, signals an unexpected change in philosophy for the Suns, adding a 7-foot-1, 325-pound center who has won four NBA championships but has been plagued by injuries in recent years and turns 36 next month.
"I'm well aware that I'm on the line," Kerr told The Associated Press. "That's my job. That's why I'm sitting in this seat. I'm comfortable with the decision. I think it gives us a better chance to win, and a better chance to win in the playoffs."
Phoenix star Steve Nash also praised the trade.
"There's doubts and a risk to everything," he said. "I know that's going to be a favorite talking point for all the media, but for us the talking point is we've got an incredible, huge, talented, charismatic player in our locker room now. ... This sounds like it's going to be a lot of fun."
O'Neal is averaging just 14.2 points this campaign, but his overall record is formidable with a 25.6 scoring average and 11.5 rebounds in 16 seasons.
"It was a very, very hard decision for me. When Shaq came to the team four years ago, I always felt it was forever. We won a championship with him. We wish him nothing but the best," Heat coach Pat Riley said.
Phoenix gambled that Shaq will be healthy and more motivated when he moves to the desert.
"I do believe we showed Shaq a tremendous amount of respect by sending him to a contender, probably the top contender in the Western Conference and he's going to flourish there, he will help them," Riley said.
"He will give them a new life and a new hope and a different game and so I think from that standpoint, he's happy about that."
The Suns have the best record in the West (34-14) but have not played up to their own expectations. Their interior defense is among the NBA's worst. Kerr apparently felt that without a large presence inside, Phoenix could not combat the big men, such as Andrew Bynum and Tim Duncan, in the playoffs.
O'Neal entered this season talking about how he wanted to win at least one more title, saying his "legacy" wouldn't be complete unless he left the game with at least five rings.
He now has his chance. E-mail to a friend
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