A Look Back At Shaq

Shaq trophies

This week, Shaquille O’Neal will be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame – and he has hand picked four NBA legends to do the honour of presenting him at the HOF ceremony. Julius “Dr J” Erving (who Shaq has often referred to as his “favourite player”), Bill Russell (a Shaq “top 5” player), Alonzo Mourning (former teammate and draft classman – taken at #2 behind Shaq himself) and Isiah Thomas (co-worker at Turner Sports and super point guard in his own right!) are the former superstars who have been chosen by The Big Aristotle (and various other nicknames over the journey) to share in this occasion.

So, with Shaq at the forefront of my basketball mind this week, I took the journey down memory lane to reminisce about arguably THE most dominant big man of all time.

Being a short, chubby, white point guard, I never really “connected” with Shaq. After all, if ever there was a stark contrast – this was it. I was Danny DeVito and he was bigger than Arnie. However, it never stopped me appreciating him. One of my very first memories of Shaq was breaking the backboard – not the backboard per say, but the complete hydraulic structure. For those who can’t remember back to the 1992-92 season, check out the video below. In Australia, at this point in time, we were lucky to get a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon to get our NBA fix. “NBA Action” as it was called had some doco style stories, score and standing updates, some first half highlights of ONE game and if lucky about the last quarter and a half in it’s entirety. Then, the broadcast finished with the top ten plays of the week (Courtside Countdown) and that was it for another seven days. As a hoops fan, I religiously recorded every Saturday and watched and re-watched over the course of the week until the next installment came. But I digress.

I’m not sure if it was the “feature game” or just made the Courtside Countdown, but I remember the moment clearly. I’d never seen a backboard broken (remember this is nearly 25 years ago and we didn’t have access to a great deal of footage!) and I honestly wasn’t sure it could be done – until Shaq did it. This really sets the scene for my “relationship” with O’Neal over the journey of his career. There were so many “unbelievable” moments, it had me rethinking life some times! I’d never seen such a BIG man play hoops. I’d seen seven footers and I saw other top tier centres like Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing (Kareem was a bit before my time) but Shaq was the biggest of the big. Just a huge monster of a man who was able to do things that didn’t physically seem possible. Even his stature seemed to contradict his skill set.

But enough about me, let’s focus on the man who is at the centre (pun intended) of the Hall of Fame ceremony this week.

I break down the Career of Shaq into some distinct sections:

  • The Orlando Magic era
  • The Decade of Dominance
  • Sidekick / Sideshow Shaq

 

The Orlando Magic Era

Shaq ORL

Drafted by Orlando with the Number 1 pick, Shaq was a monster from the word go. On and off the court he was already one of the games biggest players and personalities. The Magic improved by 20 odd games in his first season and instantly became one of the leagues most improved teams. Shaq not only made the All Star game in his rookie season, but was voted to start – a feat not achieved since Michael Jordan and he ran away with the Rookie of the Year award. Safe to say, Shaq exploded onto the NBA scene. I remember following the season and it seemed like such a success, but the Magic missed the playoffs. That was the impact he had when you watched him play – you actually forgot about the game itself sometimes and were just in awe of what the young kid was doing.

It was his second season in the league that I really enjoyed, because Penny Hardaway joined the Magic through the draft and watching the Penny / Shaq combo was just a thing of beauty. You had the “Magic-esque” silky smooth game of Penny, brilliantly working alongside the brute force of O’Neal and more importantly, the Magic won a few more games, were incredibly fun to watch and they made the playoffs. I loved Anfernee Hardaway and as such I was treated to the delight that was Shaq’s sophomore year. Nearly 30 points per game, over 13 rebounds and blocked nearly 3 shots per game. The numbers themselves are gaudy, but watching him in action…. well, the numbers don’t really do it justice.

The third and fourth seasons in Orlando were brilliant, The team wins kept coming and they added pieces like Horace Grant to complement the star duo. Shaq went head to head with Hakeem Olajuwon in the NBA Finals and while the Magic lowered their colours to the more experienced Houston team and couldn’t manage to steal a game from them, you could just see already, that the future of the league was going to be Shaq’s some day. That day would be postponed due to the return of The GOAT (and the Bulls swept the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals) which also brought to an end the O’Neal era in Orlando. But they were four incredible seasons.

 

The Decade of Dominance

Shaq LAL

With Shaq’s career, you can easily argue that he was dominant for more than a decade (and the numbers he put up in Orlando certainly back that up), but it’s not hard to recall that Shaq was at his MOST dominant with the Los Angeles Lakers and his first couple of seasons in Miami. 3 NBA titles and 3 NBA Finals MVP awards, an NBA MVP (1999 -2000) all with the Los Angeles Lakers and another NBA Title in 2006 with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. It was one hell of a run.

Orlando’s loss was certainly the Lakers gain. They scored a 24 year old dominant big man who had already been to the playoffs and NBA Finals and was ready to become “other-worldly”. Three NBA titles in 8 seasons is incredible enough, but the stats and awards don’t do it justice. Shaq’s impact on the league was similar to the “Jordan Rules” era. Teams were at a loss as to how to stop him and they practically recruited each and every off-season with stopping (or curbing the influence of) O’Neal in mind. As dominant as the big man was, I remember him running into some pretty tough teams in his first couple of seasons in the purple and gold. The Lakers fell twice to the Utah Jazz in the post-season and then couldn’t derail the San Antonio Spurs in 1999 as Tim Duncan and David Robinson gave San Antonio their first (of many for TD) title. Once they’d paid their dues though, and made some solid off-season acquisitions (Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell – although I loved Nick Van Exel and hated seeing him go to Denver) – the stage was set for Shaq, Kobe and Co to go and make history.

The 1999 – 2000 season from Shaq was one of the best ever (look for it to be featured in my Top Ten Individual Seasons piece coming soon) with so many head shaking moments. While I was completely and utterly in awe of MJ at so many points in his career, this season was when I remember saying to myself “Shaq is damn well going to go down as one of the Top Ten to ever play this game”. With Phil Jackson at the helm and with the Triangle Offense implemented, Shaq went on to dominate games, the league, the stat categories AND the MVP voting (one shy of becoming the first ever unanimous MVP back then). He even posted a career high 3.8 assists per game, showcasing his deft passing touch and high basketball IQ. He was more than just a battering ram demolishing opponents physically and mentally. Even when he was the most dominant player in the game, he did it all with this goofy grin and with a likable demeanour. The season was capped off with an NBA title and an NBA Finals MVP trophy to boot. It was an absolute rout from beginning to end.

Two more titles (and two more Finals MVP trophies) followed and it could have easily been a third if they didn’t fall victim to the incredible “team ball” from the Detroit Pistons in 2003. Talk about the cherry on the cake. If you were to tell me that I’d win three rings and collect three Finals MVP awards as well as an NBA Scoring Title and Regular Season MVP over the course of my CAREER I’d be ecstatic – and this happened all within an eight year span with the Lakers. For the younger people who may not have been able to see this “decade of dominance” then you need to have a crash course and watch these highlights. If, like me you lived through it and loved it, then take a trip down memory lane…..

 

Sidekick / Sideshow Shaq

DWade Shaq

Even as I work my way back through my memories of Shaq’s career, it’s hard to really capture the moments when he WASN’T the games best player. However, the easy distinction is to recall his move from Los Angeles to Miami. The Miami Heat already had Dwyane Wade as “the new MJ” and he was a superstar in the making. Shaq was still extremely relevant, although probably paying the price for playing a few seasons out of shape and not as well conditioned as he could have been, the Big Aristotle was slowing down. Not that you’d really know as he was still dropping 20-10 games on the regular at 31 years of age, but he just wasn’t “prime” Shaq. One of the biggest knocks on his career was his inability to coexist with Kobe Bryant and being too much of an “alpha dog” but from the moment he set foot in South Beach, he labelled the Heat “DWade’s Team” and went about providing All Star support for the flashy shooting guard.

His minutes were managed and dropped fairly significantly and so did his numbers, but he could still impact games. Wade was the franchise star and cornerstone of any title hope, but it wouldn’t have been possible without O’Neal. In his second season with the Heat, they tasted the ultimate success – adding another title to the legacy of Shaq Daddy and the passing of the torch highlighted by Dwyane Wade collecting the Finals MVP hardware. This was sidekick Shaq at his very best and was largely – for me – the last time he was really “Shaq”.

After his time with Miami, he floated around Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston before finally retiring after 20 seasons in the league.

Now as Shaq heads to the Hall of Fame, I can’t wait to see the tributes that will flow through the media. This was really fun to do. I thoroughly enjoyed Shaq’s career and for me he is right behind MJ as one of the best and most dominant players to ever grace the hardwood.

 

The Shaqolades

  • 4× NBA champion (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006)
  • 3× NBA Finals MVP (2000, 2001, 2002)
  • NBA Most Valuable Player (2000)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1993)
  • 2x NBA scoring champion (1995, 2000)
  • 3× NBA All-Star Game MVP (2000, 2004, 2009)
  • 15× NBA All-Star (1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009)
  • 14× All-NBA:
    First Team (1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006)
    Second Team (1995, 1999)
    Third Team (1994, 1996, 1997, 2008)
  • 3× NBA All-Defensive:
    Second Team (2000, 2001, 2003)

One Comment

  1. Brenda D, Jones

    September 11, 2016 at 5:09 am

    Shaq is one of the Best Players in the NBA Team! He’s right up there with Michael Jordan, & Kareen Adull Jabarr

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