When people think of the two major acquisitions in Miami Heat franchise history, they obviously think of Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James.

For those that don’t remember, it was the trade acquisition of O’Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2004 which made the Heat a championship contender. Two seasons later, it led to the first title in franchise history.

Four years later, the Heat went on to sign LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers, which led to even greater success. Miami advanced to the NBA Finals in all four of James’ years with the Heat, including two championships and two MVPs for James.

While the Heat had greater and longer success with James leading the franchise compared to O’Neal, Riley claims that the trade acquisition of the 7-foot center was bigger than the signing of the four-time MVP:

“I’ll say this, and I mean this,” Riley told the South Florida Sun Sentinel recently. “Shaq’s acquisition was bigger than any acquisition that we ever made, including the Big Three.”

“Zo (Alonzo Mourning) was big, but getting Shaquille changed everything for our franchise,” Riley said, according to the Sun Sentinel.

“The seminal moment to really make us really, really legitimate,” Riley said of the O’Neal deal. “He turned our franchise around. He gave us real legitimacy.”

Riley’s point about the Heat becoming legitimate due to the acquisition of O’Neal is mostly true. Prior to a playoff berth during the 2003-04 season, Miami had floundered in the previous two seasons, failing to make the playoffs in both years. 

However, while O’Neal played a huge role in the Heat winning their first championship in 2006, it was James’ tenure in Miami that led to their greatest success, including a 27-game winning streak which ranks as the second-best in NBA history.

Source: CBS Sports / Riley says Shaquille O’Neal acquisition bigger than LeBron James