In the fall of 1992, I fell in love with the game of basketball. At seven years old I stood over a foot taller than all my classmates. During recess all the boys would take to the blacktop and line up on the baseline. Whoever the captains where on that particular day would argue with one another over the right to have the first pick. In reality, they were arguing over the right to have me on their team. I'd set up on the low blocks, easily pin my defender behind me, and raise my hand in the air to call for the ball. The pass would come in high enough were no other kid could have a chance to grab it. Once the ball was secure, I'd slam down a two handed power dribble while turning towards the basket. Once in position, I’d rise up over two, sometimes three defenders and bank a shot in from about one to two feet away. Every rebound was mine. Every opposing shot in the paint was either getting packed back in to the shooter's face or tossed completely off the court into the grass. I was a grade school basketball god. In my mind, the only other human who could dominate the game in the fashion that I could, was Shaquille O’Neal.
Athlete, Musician, Thespian
Shaquille was my hero. This giant of man would throw down ferocious dunks with little to no regard for the well being of those in the immediate vicinity. When O’Neal ripped down the entire goal in 1993, I thought he was Superman. I literally thought Shaq had descended upon Earth from another galaxy and had begun using his powers to embarrass other gigantic men. To a kid who was unmatched amongst his peers in basketball, this was by far the coolest thing that I could possibly imagine. Not to mention the fact that O’Neal always seemed up for a good time. Dancing, practical jokes, rapping, terrible yet family oriented films. He had it all. Shaq moved onto Los Angeles where he would somehow grow even stronger and more dominant than before. While I was not a fan of the Lakers, I still maintained that respect and admiration for the Man O’ steel. After winning his last title with the Miami Heat, he finished his career by hopping from team to team playing with a slew of other future Hall of Famers. And although his natural gifts faded late in his career, his gregarious spirit stayed strong until his retirement. I cherish everything that man did for the game and he is one of the reasons why I am such a religious fan of the sport to this day. But one thing has become clear to me these past few years...Shaq is a fucking asshole.
"We as players, we always watch people before us," O'Neal said. "When I came in, it was Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon, guys who played like true centers who played inside. What we have now are centers that are going to the European style, which is a lot of pick-and-roll. Dwight Howard, who's a pick-and-roll player, some people say he's the best center in the league, but me being an old-school center, I'm going to go with Robin Lopez and Andrew Bynum because they play with their back to the basket."
These comments were made on NBA TV’s Open Court. OK Shaq. If you’re going to make this claim, let’s make sure we know the names of the players. Steve Smith had to remind him that Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez are different people. Shaq later goes on to say in regards to Brook Lopez, “My man…my man, before the foot injury, was putting up solid, big man numbers…” (Please feel free to read that last quote in your Shaq voice) After these comments, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, and Mamma Lopez simultaneously spit their cheerios all over the television screen. Who in their right minds would ever say Brook Lopez and “solid big man numbers” in the same day? In his last healthy season he only grabbed six rebounds a game. He shot an ok percentage at the rim, but at only 4.8 attempts per contest, no one really feared him down low. And his lack of lateral quickness made him a below average defender. Avery Johnson wanted to murder him in his sleep. When compared to other top bigs, Brook has a ways to go. Nice player, but far from top two as the Big Aristotle claims.
I may have retired from the game, but not from running my mouth.
Shaq’s comments on Open Court are just the most recent in a series of public jabs he’s taken at Dwight in the past few years. I have no issue with people taking shots at Dwight in regards to how he handled his exodus from Orlando. But every time Shaq speaks on Dwight and his place amongst the elite centers he comes off as a bitter old man. The average fan would never try to claim Dwight as all time great. At least not yet seeing as how he may not even be halfway through his career. Why so defensive Shaq? Perhaps O’Neal is not so secure with his own legacy. Some critics would claim Shaq was an underachiever throughout the years. Yes, we are aware of the three titles he won with the Lakers after Hakeem made him look like an awkward teenager in the 1995 Finals. Yes, we are aware of the title he won as Dwayne Wade’s sidekick in Miami. But could have Shaq done more in his career? Does he reflect on the times he showed up to training camp fat and unfocused? Does he wonder how much healthier he could have been in the second half of his career had he taken better care of his body? Did he ever stay up late at night peering out of his bedroom window thinking about those missed free throws? Does he skip rocks across a pond wondering if he wouldn’t have been useless in his last two seasons if he had a semblance of a game outside the paint?
A man who is confident in his mark on the game wouldn’t continue to find ways to get under the skin of a player 14 years his junior. This isn’t meant to start a debate about who does/will have the better career. It’s meant to point out how tiresome and silly Shaq’s poking and prodding have become. Dwight had this to say in response to Shaq’s claims.
Shaquille has done the impossible; he’s managed to make Dwight Howard sound like an adult. I guess he really is Superman.