June 6, 2011
It goes without saying that Shaquille O’Neal was one of those rare athletes that transcended the game he played. He wasn’t the most dominant as some have called him lately – that title clearly belongs to Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged more than 50 points and 25 rebounds per game in the 1961-62 season and more than 30 points and 20 rebounds per game for his career. But Shaq (like Wilt) was larger than life, which is why no single article will do him justice.
So with that, I give you the top ten things I’ll remember about the Diesel.
10. Shaq Signs Exclusive Deal with Classic Trading Cards
Shaq was a trendsetter and had one of the first exclusive trading card deals in history. Classic, an upstart company back in the early 1990s, made one of the biggest splashes in history by signing O’Neal to an exclusive card deal, owning the right to print his first rookie cards. Sure, go ahead and scoff if you want. But his deal was enormous for the industry as it led to other companies signing exclusive deals with athletes.
9. Literally a Showstopper
O’Neal didn’t only break a few backboards when he dunked early in his career, but he literally tore down the entire support systems. This, of course, delayed play while the systems were fixed or replaced. Shaq was one of the few players that forced the NBA to look into reinforcing their backboards.
8. Shaq Raps
No, the Diesel’s abilities weren’t limited to only the basketball court. He was also a great rapper. Okay, well, maybe not. But his debut Album ‘Shaq Diesel’ still went platinum, which gives him exactly one more platinum record than almost everyone on the planet.
7. Leading Magic to Finals
O’Neal was only in his third season when he led the Magic to the Finals. He didn’t just help them get there, he was the clear star of the team. With all due respect to Penny Hardaway, Dennis Scott, Horace Grant, and Nick Anderson, the Magic probably don’t get out of the first round without the Diesel. Orlando was swept by the Houston Rockets, but it wasn’t because of Shaq, who averaged 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists per game.
6. Passed over for Christian Laettner
The decision to take Christian Laettner over O’Neal for the final spot on the 1992 USA Olympic Dream Team had about as much impact on the outcome as it would if I were selected. Lots of factors played into the decision – Laettner was a senior with two NCAA titles for starters. Still, it was a big-time snub nonetheless and Shaq wasn’t all that happy about it.
5. Taking Heat to the Title
Make no mistake – the 2005-06 Miami Heat were Dwyane Wade’s team. But it’s fair to say that without O’Neal’s nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds every night, Miami would still be looking for their first title. Shaq also proved to the world he could win a championship without Kobe and his fourth title placed him in select company.
4. Kobe Feud
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. If Kobe and Shaq stay together, it’s likely that they would have gone on to win several more titles. The feud will always be one of the first things fans think of when reminiscing about Shaq. O’Neal wouldn’t have been able to run down Bill Russell’s 11 championships, but Kobe is young enough that it’s conceivable that he could have gotten close.
3. Signs with Lakers
The rumors swelled in the Summer of 1996 about what Shaq would do. He eventually chose to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers and effectively began a mini dynasty, helping the franchise to three titles. His signing filled the gap left by Vlade Divac, who was traded to the then Charlotte Hornets for … Kobe Bryant. That effectively concluded the most lopsided deal in NBA history.
2. Leading Lakers to Three-Peat
O’Neal began the Lakers’ Dynasty by helping the franchise to three straight championships. Whatever side you fall on of the great Shaq vs. Kobe debate, none of those titles are won without O’Neal, who won the Finals Most Valuable Player award each year.
1. Pythagorean Theorem
There have been countless memorable quotes over Shaq’s career, but none will ever top the time he tried to describe just how unguardable he was. An exacerbated O’Neal said his game was like the Pythagorean Theorem, claiming there was no answer. The only problem with that is there actually is an answer to the Theorem: A2 + B2 = C2.
It’s okay, Shaq – we get the point.
May 31, 2011
The recently retired Phil Jackson is considered one of the best coaches in NBA history. But the simple fact is that he should be clearly viewed at the top of that list. His most fierce competition for that top spot comes from former NBA team Boston Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach, so for the sake of argument, I’ll compare the two.
For starters, Phil simply won more. His eleven titles beat Auerbach’s nine and while that’s not the only thing that matters, it’s a great place to begin.
Now the talent – ah, yes. We hear it all the time from misguided fans – ‘Phil had MJ and Kobe – who wouldn’t win with those two?’ Well, Doug Collins, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Del Harris, actually. Seriously though, Phil’s detractors love to point out that he won his titles with four of the best NBA players in history – Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Scottie Pippen. While that’s true, it’s also important to point out that none of those players won titles under other coaches.
The amusing thing is that it’s not only arguable that Red Auerbach had more talent, it’s likely. In 1996, the NBA named its famous ’50 at 50’ – the top fifty NBA players in history. While this was a subjective list, it’s difficult to find many problems with the selections. Red won his 11 titles with six of those players on his rosters, while Phil had the aforementioned four.
A deeper look shows that Auerbach had an even greater advantage, though.
His championships were won with many of those NBA players on any given team. Auerbach never won a single championship with fewer than three top 50 players at one time – and many years, his teams boasted four such stars. Jackson, on the other hand, never had more than two on the same squad.
Further, Auerbach also had plenty of other talent outside of those top 50 players. During his championship seasons, Red coached many other Hall of Famers not on that list including Tommy Heinsohn (who should be, by the way), Frank Ramsey, Arnie Risen, K.C. Jones, and Clyde Lovellette. His 1962-63 NBA team featured eight Hall of Famers, for crying out loud. In 1960-61, seven of the Celtics eleven players were Hall of Famers. With that type of talent, it’s probably amazing they managed to lose as many games as they did.
Phil Jackson’s other Hall of Famers on championship teams other than his duos of Jordan/Pippen and Kobe/Shaq? Maybe Dennis Rodman, who helped the Bulls win three – that’s it. Glen Rice, Robert Horry, Ron Harper, A.C. Green, and Horace Grant were all fine supplementary players, but not Hall of Fame worthy.
In other words, Phil managed to win his titles with talent that was significantly more diluted.
Sure, the obvious thing to point out is that the league, as a whole, had stronger teams in the 1950s and 1960s because there were fewer of them. Thus, more stars ended up on each team as a result. Still (and with all due respect to the 1970s and 1980s Los Angeles Lakers), no franchise has boasted such talent over such a prolonged period of time. Auerbach was playing with a stacked deck and while winning nine championships with anybody is flat out unbelievable, it’s clear he had more aces than Phil.
So Phil won more titles with less overall talent than Red. But there’s more.
Jackson won his titles with two different franchises, proving that he could take completely different collections of players to the pinnacle. Not only did he help Jordan get over the top, he took an immature Bryant and turned him into the best thing since, well, Jordan.
Then there’s the ‘what if’ factor. What if MJ had the hindsight to realize hitting minor-league curveballs wasn’t as easy as he thought and played full seasons in 1994-95 and 1995-96? What if Kobe and Shaq did their best Oscar and Felix impersonations and coexisted as an odd couple for several more years? What if the Bulls’ management didn’t take winning for granted and brought Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson back for more runs? It’s conceivable that Phil walks away with 15 titles … or more.
Lastly, consider the fact that today’s players make much more money and are far more difficult to control. Auerbach had it a lot easier with less media attention, fewer egos to deal with, less agents causing a stir, and generally, less headaches. In all, the pressure to win was not as great with far less money to be made.
When you add it all up, not only was Phil a better coach, it’s not all that close.