Biggest Kid of Them All

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (WEST COAST OFFICE) – The best part about Shaquille O’Neal as an emerging star and then an overpowering presence and ultimately a weighty caricature in the last chapter was, as is often the case with greats, also the worst part. He was a big kid. He was a big kid who could be generous and connect with children despite the mammoth build that could intimidate adults, just as his lack of discipline led to conditioning problems that frustrated Kobe Bryant and helped lead to the breakup of the Lakers.

The Shaq legacy, beyond the obvious of what can be found in the record books, is that there never was a middle ground. He was a torrent of emotions and basketball skill of the highest order who was cheered and disliked at a level few in NBA history can match. That it could be at the same time and in the same city — Los Angeles, just as the decade reached the mid-point — says everything about his reach.

He was stunningly good the first 10 or 12 years, no matter how many fans wrongly tried to discredit his accomplishments by saying O’Neal was nothing more than a mountainous guy crashing through defenses. In truth, he was a 7-foot-1, 320-pounder (later 340… and 350… and…. ) with moves and a passion to play. He was a worker in those days, set about to avenge all the slights he made up for motivation and, most of all, theater. Shaq owed David Robinson a good post thrashing because Robinson had once ignored the San Antonio high school student for an autograph. Nonsense stuff like that.

When the drive faded, O’Neal would put off summer medical treatments or show to camp in bad enough shape that the Lakers knew he wouldn’t be in the right place until after the All-Star break. Sometimes it didn’t matter. They won anyway. And sometimes it did matter and the floor-bound Shaq, as Phil Jackson famously called him, became a major defensive liability and an attitude problem. A lot of the barks were just Shaq unable to grow up in certain ways, but you don’t call out Jerry Buss for underpaying his stars.

More than an athlete, O’Neal was an entertainer. He painted his toe nails for fun, wrestled on the locker room floor, lifted reporters and went with the military press to hoist them horizontal, and inevitably invited media groups to join him at the strip club. The fun was not just in the winning. He needed to be a big kid.

15 Comments

  1. Grim rper says:

    Comparing players, Would Wilt have scored 50 now, would he be able to defend Shaq, NO!!! Shaq is the most dominant and greatest of all time.

  2. Nicholas says:

    Will always remember Shaq for breaking backboards by hanging on to them for too long, after dunking. :-)

    Think all the arenas had to do extra quality checks when he (and Stanley Roberts, I think) were breaking boards & disrupting games for a period in the 90′s.

  3. Sunstrike says:

    Shaq IS better than wilt. the only reason wilt scored so freaking much is because only like a handfull of people that were as tall as he was back then. If he were alive and still playing, there would NO way he’d average 50 points or score 100 or pull down 55 rebounds. Wilt was good cause he was taller than everyone. Shaq was gaurded by people BIGGER than him and still whooped them. Would of had 30,000 points if he could shoot the free throw but still, Well done Shaquille O’Neal…

  4. everybodylovesshaq says:

    Shaq probably is the most dominat center but not the best ( see this ) http://sportales.com/basketball/top-ten-greatest-nba-centers-of-all-time/ . i can say that shaq deserve his retirement and try a different career.

  5. JAR SIA says:

    Shaq was a DEFENSIVE presence until now and hes part of the greates degfensive players in the NBA history http://sportales.com/sports/top-10-nba-defensive-players-of-all-time/ , shaq was one of the most charismatic nba players we ever had probably second to Majic Johnson. his smiles even the game doens,t goes their way hehehehhe

  6. NICHOLUS says:

    from a South African point of view I would boldly say Shaquille is the best centre to ever wear a basketball uniform and those who against him know that he was just as unstopable His career is super WELL DONE SHAQ DIESEL
    I LOVE THIS GUY VERY MUCH GOD BLESS HIM …………….

  7. Rip Greenfire says:

    I’ve found a good compromise for this problem of comparing greats, let’s put them in decades. All problems are solved!
    Shaq wouldn’t be compared to Wilt or Russell, he would be in his own league. In the 2 decades he played, Shaq was one of the most dominate big men in the league. However, I would choose Timmy and His Airness as better players. Shaq does beat out Yao as the best 2000′s center.

  8. PINOY BENTE TRES says:

    The greatness of Shaquille will be measured not by comparison to what Wilt and Bill have done on their career but to all those who come by his side or those play against him. Think about Wilt playing against the like of Tim Duncan with David Robinson, Think about Bill Russel defending against this two? Not to mention the names of Pat, Alonzo, Dikembe, Chris, Shawn, Moses, Dirk, Hakeem, on how he played against them. . . Shaq in his prime is the most unstoppable force the game of basketball has ever seen as of this date. PERIOD.

    • Tenki says:

      Who the hell is Shawn? He’s more fond of coke than the sport, he’s not worthy to be mentioned in the same sentence as the other greats.

  9. Tommohawk says:

    Agreed Aus, I actually have little doubt that Shaq would have totally dominated offensively and defensively in the 50s, 60s and 70′s had he played on those eras at his peak. As they said early in his career, Wilt was a giant among men, Shaq was a giant among giants. Dare I say it, but Wilt and Russell would have struggled to stop him offensively let along the many other players of the day. It’s all about timing.

    • Rip Greenfire says:

      Of course they would’ve, in the 50s, shaq would’ve been a monster all over the place. However, if he was born in the 50s he wouldn’t be the shaq we know, he would probably be thinner and more agile if he wanted to play basketball.

    • HeatWave says:

      Russell would have struggled. Wilt was more atlethic and would have found ways to defend Shaq IMO. Wilt > Shaq & Kareem > everyone else

  10. AusRob says:

    Well done Shaq, great career.

    What you will undoubtedly hear in the next few days are all these “experts” who try to rank him on the all-time greats, and without any disrespect to the greats of the past sometimes nostalgia is the worst. Already some have said he wasn’t as good as Russell, Kareem or Wilt, and the case may be that he wasn’t, but in 20 or 30 years there’ll be some other dominant big man who probably hasn’t even been born yet and everyone will say of him “he was good, but not as good as Shaq.” Is the league destined to just continually get worse with every new star we enshrine? Is it really too ballsy to say Shaq was better than Wilt?

    • Desmodeus says:

      I think the issue with comparing players from different eras is that it’s virtually impossible to make a direct comparison. What we inevitably end up doing is comparing how dominant they were and that’s as much a reflection of the quality of the players around them as it is the players themselves. If we look at records in individual sports, say track and field for example, with a few exceptions they get broken pretty regularly which clearly suggests that todays athletes are better (faster, stronger, able to leap higher etc) than those of the past. I strongly suspect that the same is true of athletes in team sports but, unlike sprinters who run the same 100m as athletes did fifty years ago, the performances of athletes in team sports are affected by the quality of both their team mates and their opposition. Is it as hard to score 100 points in an NBA game today as it was when Wilt did it? it’s almost impossible to say, everyone has their opinion but there are no empirical facts one can produce to prove definitively that it either is or isn’t, or if it is, how much harder? Add to that the fact that many of us never saw the greats of yesteryear play and, because there is very little footage available, never will, all we can look at are their accomplishments and those don’t tell the whole story.