Shaquille O'Neal - This, ladies and gentlemen, is why the "he's a superstar, he can say what he likes" defense does not wash. For years, Shaq would call people out in whatever way he so chose, including unnecessary pot shots at players like Ricky Davis and Chris Quinn, just because he wanted the press to like him. But now? Now that he needs the NBA? The NBA does not need him. Had he been a nicer guy, there wouldn't be the locker room doubts that are now submarining his otherwise-good-enough production.
[...] Teams went small when going big was futile. And this futility was in large part due to Shaquille O’Neal.
Shaq’s career went on for so long that it is somewhat difficult to remember his prime. Towards the end, he was a plodder, an absolute monster of a man but a flat-footed one who travelled far more than he was ever called for (superstar calls have a legacy), who would camp in the paint and call for the ball, normally getting it, but not running or jumping like he could. Old Shaq was still good and effective when healthy, especially because old Shaq was even more mammoth than young Shaq, but he looked little like prime Shaq.
Prime Shaq, though, was a ridiculous combination of power and agility. He may not have run as well as Ryan Hollins, but nor did he need to. Shaq was far stronger than almost everyone else, far quicker than most of his peers, and smart and skilled enough to make them work for him.
Shaq was so good that they made rules about him. He was the latecomer to an era of tremendous post players – most notably Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning – all of whom had their role in reshaping the game. When it became obvious that there was no filling that centre void within the next generation, Shaq stood out further from his peers. Turn-of-the-millennium Shaquille O’Neal was as good as he wanted to be.
There was a time when players existed to foul him. Hack-A-Shaq was in large part a product of O’Neal’s permanently poor free throw shooting, but also because there was not much else that could be done. Shaq got position around the basket whenever he wanted, and unless you could deny the passing angle, jump the pass for a steal, pull the chair like Kurt Thomas or somehow have Priest Lauderdale in there to body him up, his ability to turn and raise up or power through could not be stopped. The foul was thus the only option.
Teams planned for Shaq not just from game to game, but in terms of their roster composition. To win the title, you had to go through Shaq. And although you could not rival him, you had to at least try and body him so that he would not throw a 40/20 playoff series on you without a fight. Teams could therefore get away with seven foot “stiffs” on rosters far more easily than you can now. The roster spot that now goes to the extra shooting once went to the third seven-footer, used on a player whose points, rebounds and fouls totals were always similar.
It is a fun thought experiment to imagine what Shaquille O’Neal would look like in the NBA of the now. An era in which Kevin Durant, rather than Ervin Johnson, is the new style rim protector.
No reasonable thought experiment surely would or should suggest that if he were to come through in this era, Shaquille O’Neal would be a shooter. Nor would anyone surely suggest he would have gone away from what made him so great. Shaq had finesse, more than he is often given credit for, overshadowed as it was by his phenomenal power. But he was a power player. Shaq never shot foul shots, nor mid-rangers. His eight-foot flippy thing does not count. He would not now become a shooter, a stretch big, or anything other than what he was. He was a big man, and played like it. He still would,
Nonetheless, to do so now would be somewhat anomalous, even more so than before. Everyone wanted to play like Shaq then. They don’t now.
Bigs are faster now, and the game has been sped up. The supposedly halcyon days of the 90s were much slower, more physical, ‘grittier’, and, if you like that sort of thing, more big-manny. There was most post play, more hard fouls, and more need for Chris Dudley. Stylistic opinions of that era vary – what can be evidenced, though, is the significant shift away from that. And for that, Shaquille O’Neal should take significant credit.
If transposed into the modern NBA today, Shaq would still be great, because greatness transcends. Yet it is partly because of his greatness that we are where we are.
Only six players in the history of NCAA basketball have ever recorded more than 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 300 blocks. Those six are David Robinson (1st overall pick, 1987), Pervis Ellison (1st overall pick, 1989), Derrick Coleman (1st overall pick, 1990), Tim Duncan (1st overall pick, 1997), Alonzo Mourning (2nd overall pick, 1992, behind only Shaquille O'Neal) and Kyle Hines (undrafted, 2008). And now in his professional career, Kyle Hines continues to put up numbers whenever he goes.
Not so long ago, the Celtics had five centres; Perkins, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, Rasheed Wallace and Semih Erden. They had more centres than they had roster spots for them, and had done it this way on purpose. But Rasheed followed through on his retirement plans, Shaq has struggled to stay healthy, and Jermaine lost that same struggle four years ago. Not even Erden exists any more; like Daniels, he and the Skillz Train were pawned off to the Cavaliers in exchange for a second round draft pick, simultaneously opening roster spots and saving money. Without him on the bench, the Celtics become even shallower. The team that has to go through Dwight Howard now has to do so while relying on Nenad Krstic and Big Baby at centre.
[...] And perhaps the most famous example of this trend is Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq has released five albums, at least one of which has gone platinum, as well as some occasional public freestyling (including one notable incident where he encourages former teammate Bryant to sample the delectation of his bumhole). Shaq was never particularly good, but refreshingly, he was also never particularly bothered by this. And to his credit, he did improve. More importantly, even if Shaq himself wasn't hugely skilled, he managed to land himself some excellent production talent. This track, entitled "Strait Playing" [sic], is exactly the kind of the thing the world still needs to be making.
[...] The All-Star game itself was not half bad, either. The first and thus far only All-Star game to go to double overtime, it saw 300 total points scored, an in-his-prime Allen Iverson doing what an in-his-prime Allen Iverson did at All-Star games, and an in-his-prime Kevin Garnett dominate proceedings on his way to the MVP trophy. Shaq faced off with Brad Miller for the first significant time since Shaq tried to kill him, an amusing in-game report spoke of Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce’s outrages at playing so few minutes, Yao Ming looked woefully out of place on his way to two points and two rebounds, and the close finish saw the game’s very best turn up the intensity and play at something resembling their very hardest. It was good fun to watch, right down to the Zydrunas Ilgauskas experience. Even the 52 turnovers were aesthetically pleasing.
Note: Non-US teams that the player
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that nation. If a league or division name is expressly stated, it's not
the top division. The only exceptions to this are the rare occasions where
no one league is said to be above the other, such as with the JBL/BJ League
split in Japan.