ORLANDO, Fla. – The Big Fella will have no Big Exodus.
Shaquille O'Neal believes he will be back.
The four-time NBA champion said Tuesday he will be in the league next season and would rather retire than play internationally. Although if the time has come to hang up those size 23 shoes for good, O'Neal said he will do so "very graciously" and "have a big party."
A person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Celtics are making progress on a deal that would land O'Neal in Boston. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet final.
"I know I will play in the NBA next season," O'Neal said at the event in Orlando promoting his reality television show. "International? No. The good thing about me and my career is I came in, did it my way, did more than expected. For every athlete or every great person, there's a time when it has to end. When and if it ever ends it will be very graciously.
"We're going to have a big party. We're going to have a ceremony and the next thing I'll be waiting for is the entrance into the place where your name will never be forgotten."
But he has struggled to find a contract from a team that can guarantee him playing time, enough money and a chance for one more championship to add to his legacy.
He all but ruled out joining LeBron James in Miami or a return to Orlando, where he began his career in 1992, with both teams not showing much interest. He also admitted this offseason has been particularly difficult floating around in free agency.
"For me, it's been a real thinking process," O'Neal said. "I came into the league very graciously and want to go out very graciously. My main thought was I would like to play for a winning franchise, somebody that's used to winning, somebody that keeps winning. Hopefully, I'll make my decision here in the next one or two days."
O'Neal won't be bored whenever he retires.
He was with teen pop star Justin Bieber in Orlando promoting the basketball giant's television show, "Shaq Vs." The second season of the reality competition was set to begin airing Tuesday night on ABC.
O'Neal is also working on his doctoral degree, has long shown interests in law enforcement, starred in movies and television shows and even produced a rap music album.
"I have a lot to fall back on," O'Neal said. "For me to be done and have done it my way, it will actually be a happy time for me because I know I have about 80 years left to live. So I'll be excited about that. But I know I will play in the league this year. If not, we'll just have a big party and I'll shut it down.
"Worst comes to worst, I'll be a doctor and do speaking engagements and talk to children and run for sheriff in this town or the next town over," O'Neal added. "I have many, many options."
AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this report.