Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shaquille O'Neal Profile

Shaquille O'Neal

"Shaq Daddy," "Diesel," "Shaq Fu," "Superman," "The Big Aristotle," 
"MDE (Most Dominant Ever)," LCL (Last Center Left),"
"Wilt Chamberneezy," "The Big Baryshnikov," "Shaquille O'Nealovich,"
"Kazaam," "The Big Deporter," "The Big Galactus,"
"The Big Shaqtus," "Witness Protection," "The Big Shamrock"
 Magic, Lakers, Heat, Suns, Cavaliers, Celtics - 19 seasons- 1207 games 

7’1” – 325 lbs – 23.7 pts – 10.9 reb – 2.5 ast – 2.3 blk – .58 fg%
“Book of Basketball”- Bill Simmons’ Ranking: 11
SLAM #130 and Top 500 Ranking: 4

"Well, it's amazing how time flies. I just gotta say congratulations to the most gifted physical specimen that I've ever seen play this game with size and ability, and just natural talent," said Kobe Bryant at Shaq's jersey retirement in LA.

It was a seemingly heartfelt moment; candid and honest. Just Kobe caught without time to rehearse, and speaking about his greatest teammate and rival.

What he said is true. Undoubtedly so to the fans too young to remember the Olajuwons, Ewings, and Robinsons that dominated before Shaq entered the league.

And he was bigger and badder than the lot of them.

The towering power center bowled over the league for 19 seasons while starring as the most charismatic and recognizable player in a generation.

He played the game with joy and always understood that the game was a game - one that he was damn good at, mind you.

Shaq wasn't obsessed with stats like Chamberlain, and he wasn't obsessed with winning the way Russell was, he struck a rich balance with everything he did and made fans everywhere want to be a part of it.

Hell, everybody had to see him live. I watched him as an aged Celtic beat up on some kid named Joey Dorsey live just to see him with my own eyes. I will tell my grand-kids.

But through it all Shaq coasted. As the consensus best big man in the league and the self-procaimed "Last Centre Left," Shaq dominated would-be competition. Often he looked down on opposing bigs as if they were roast chicken and he was tightening his bib. Dikembe Mutombo was considered the best defender of his generation and look what happened there.

But that was only if he cared. Never driven by an opponent who could challenge him physically, he relied on his biggest assets and didn't develop many new ones. If there was a stake, a motive, a story, a rival, a must-win, Shaq came to play. And in key situations, Shaq brought more quickness and power in a seven-footer than has been seen before or since.

That quickness and agility allowed Diesel to dominate and demolish on the court. Shaq turned beautiful moves into destructive forces of slam that brought not just the rim down, but the whole backboard.
Off-court, Shaq released rap albums, movies including Blue Chips and Shazaam, and TV shows like Shaq VS, all while wearing a mask of himself and playing his lovable character. It was all part of his crux, his act, and if the NBA was the WWE he'd probably be remembered as it's greatest superstar. His poor foul-shooting became part of this act and part of his character, and he accepted this limitation throughout his career.

He never really figured out the free throw secret. Shaq launched cross-eyed bombs off his fingertips in a collision course for the rim that belied his overall grace. Why he couldn't loft them a bit higher or softer, we'll never know. What we do know is that his rookie FT% of .592 was higher than his final season FT% of .557 (he never improved), he once fell from .622 in 2002-03 to .490 the following season (inconsistent), and he finished his career with an average of .527 (typical Shaq).

Teams would employ the hack-a-Shaq defense where they would foul him on purpose and give him a pair of freebies rather than allow the opposing team to set up on offense. The hack-a-Shaq has since been employed on other wanna-be big men, but Shaq was a pioneer.

Simultaneously, and paradoxically, Shaq was the NBA's most efficient scorer from the field ten times in his career, including a stretch between the 97-98 season and the 05-06 season where he led the league in FG% eight out of nine seasons.

He made eight All-NBA First Teams, was named the '00 MVP, three-time Finals MVP ('00-'02), and won four titles (00, 01, 02 Lakers, 06 Heat) while averaging an easy 24-11. Not many players have ever been able to back up a championship guarantee either.

Late in his career, Shaq ring-chased a little while trying to cement his legacy. He moved to Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston as a rather large shadow of himself, still able to rely on his overwhelming bulk, but without the grace he'd shown at his peak.

Shaq's legacy had already been secured long before those end-of-career moves. Now an analyst and entertainer, the memory of his dominance hasn't faded yet and that's probably why the Lakers chose to honor him sooner than later. On any given night, he was the most gifted physical specimen in the room and if he really wanted to, he could give it to the best of them.

 illustration by author: Devin Gray

Full stats from
Top 10 Plays of Shaq's Career

Big Man Bio Series
Bill Russell
Moses Malone
Elvin Hayes
Hakeem Olajuwon

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