by Alan Spector

In 1996, Shaquille O'Neal bolted the Orlando Magic to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers.

But, on Friday, Shaq was welcomed back with open arms as he was inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame.

In a private ceremony at the Amway Center, O'Neal became the Hall's third inductee, joining Magic founder Pat Williams and former teammate Nick Anderson.

"The Orlando Magic are honored to recognize those who have made significant contributions to our history," said Matci CEO Alex Martins. "Shaq made a tremendous impact on our franchise during his time with us and we are thrilled to recognize him as our third inductee into the Magic Hall of Fame."

"It's a great honor and really, really unexpected," O'Neal said. "When I got the call, I couldn't believe it.  But me and the DeVos family, we kept a close relationship even after I left in 1996."

O'Neal spent four seasons with Orlando after having been selected with the first overall pick of the 1992 NBA Draft.  He was named an NBA All-Star each year and helped the Magic reach the NBA Finals in 1995.

In other state sports news...

  • At the Amway Center Friday night, the current Magic team lost for the ninth time in 10 games, 111 to 97 to the Detroit Pistons.  New Magic Hall of Fame inductee Shaquille O'Neal was honored with a ceremony at midcourt between the first and second quarters.
  • At Atlanta, the Heat lost to the Hawks, 99-86.  Miami is still in seventh place in the NBA's Eastern Conference, but just one game in front of Boston.  The Celtics beat the Knicks, 96-92.
  • In hopes of attracting national TV coverage, UCF has moved its football season opener.  The Knights were scheduled to kickoff the season against FAU on Saturday, Sept. 5.  Now, they'll open up on Thursday, Sept. 3.
  • The Tampa Bay Rays have selected their original owner, Vince Naimoli, to throw out the first pitch prior to their season opener at Tropicana Field on April 6.  The Rays are celebrating their 20-year anniversary.