Thursday, June 2, 2011

So Long Shaq!

So yesterday, Shaquille O'Neal decided to retire. Insert applause. Now, I don't want to sound like a hater, because I am not. I have enjoyed Shaq through the years, but I feel that people base their opinions of him as a player on his off-the-court antics. Is Shaq funny? Without a doubt. He seems like the type of guy you want to party with at XS Nightclub in Las Vegas.

However, his work ethic on the court has absolutely befuddled me through the years, and all of these so-called experts crowning him the "most dominant center EVER"??? FOH! Sorry to burst their collective bubble, but in my Stephen A. Smith voice, "you gotta be kidding me!" Shaq is defiitely intimidating on the court. Bar none, there has been no one else in the league that stands 7'1", 350+ pounds. His sheer size will intimidate the average 6'4", 200 lb. player. However, to say he was the greatest, as I read in numerous tweets. Or to say he was the most dominant is just reaching.

When Shaq entered the league his rookie season, he was picked 1st in the 1992 draft by the expansion team, the Orlando Magic. Together with Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, they went all the way to the NBA Finals in the 94-95' season, but lost to the Houston Rockets. The following year, they were swept by the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. That same year, Shaq became a free agent, and his team stepped up to the plate and offered him $115 MIL out the gate. However, Shaq did not accept this deal right away. He instead went on to play with the second dream team to a gold medal in the summer Olympics in Atlanta. I knew then that he was going to jump ship. He instead went to the bright lights of Los Angeles and $6 million more. At that moment, Shaq told the world who he was. He was a funny, easygoing big guy, who preferred fame, money and the spotlight over basketball. No one wanted to believe this, but it was true then, and it is true now. Shaq's time in L.A. proved to be exactly what I expected. We saw him in movies (Kazam), music videos (Fu Schnickens), and a sleugth of commercials and ads. He was steadily becoming the most marketable guy in the league. Almost! Jordan was still playing, and winning. By the time Jordan retired after the '97-'98 season. Shaq had taken that title. However, it was the bru ha ha on the court that got my attention.

At this time, I was NOT a fan of Kobe Bryant. He was young, arrogant and a loner, which doesn't quite fit in a team sport such as basketball. It seemed like the more fans and the media hated Kobe, the more they loved Shaq. We watched Shaq's waistline balloon, his conceited antics (him calling himself Superman and the greatest) grow, and we also began to watch these two personalities/egos clash with their coach Phil Jackson. Kobe took almost sole blame for this and was deemed the villain. By the '03-'04 season, the Lakers had won three titles in a row and barring injuries were looking to get a fourth title. However, the addition of Malone and Payton, not to mention the declining relationship with Kobe and Phil proved to be too much. The Lakers lost to the Pistons in the Finals. Kobe was coming off a rape charge and a fledgling endorsement career, and rumors that Phil Jackson was going to retire blew up. That off-season, Kobe became a free agent and the media hounded him about his return. Kobe said he would come back if: Phil returned, the Lakers brought in more people to build the team back up, and Shaq got his fat-ass into shape. I laughed about that statement for weeks. For the first time, I held a little admiration for Kobe. He didn't say he would return if they offered him $200 MIL! No, his concern was strictly about the direction of the team and the organization! You have to respect that. I knew. Shaq was leaving.

Shaq took his talents to South Beach for another $100 MIL + contract. He guaranteed that HE would bring a championship to Miami, and they held a parade for him. Shaq liked to party and was rich just like them, so he fit right in. Meanwhile, when the season began, he sat on the sidelines for inordinate amount of times with thumb and toe injuries while we watched Dwayne Wade kill himself to keep Miami in the running. As luck would have it, they played the Dallas "choke in the post-season" Mavericks in the Finals, and again, thanks to Wade, they won. However, Shaq took ALL OF THE CREDIT! The city of Miami gave Shaq a day, he was given the key to the city, and even became a police officer, seen chasing purse snatchers down the street. The following two seasons the team fell apart. Wade having killed himself to win that title almost singlehandedly, his body went down on him. Next thing you knew, they were being swept by the Baby Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Where was the great Shaq then? Wade was barely 60% and desperately needed someone else to step up, Shaq was nowhere to be found. It was almost a repeat of the situation he had with Kobe, except Wade brooded silently.

Once again, questions loomed on other players. The Heat having picked up a declining but at times, reliable Antoine Walker, he took the blame for Shaq and it eventually cost him his job. I knew at the preseason presser when Riley went completely batshit about players coming back out of shape, that Shaq was leaving. The media railed on Walker, but no one was more out of shape than Shaq. He spent the start of the season, healing from yet another injury, getting back into shape and looking at what other team he wanted to go to. He ended up in Phoenix. After a few months, the Suns started picking up W's. Again, the media credited Shaq, then when they started losing and eventually fell apart in the playoffs to the Lakers no less, they blamed Amar'e Stoudemire. By the following season, it became harder to do that when teams who strengthened themselves in the middle were killing the Suns. No one wanted to say that Shaq looked slow, and out of sync, but it was bound to happen, not just because he'd gotten older. Hell, he was playing with Steve Nash! No Shaq looked bad because years of bad habits and a lazy work ethic were catching up to him. Showing up season after season out of shape, and having to try to push your body to get back into shape at the beginning of every season, which always leads to injuries, had caught up with Shaq.

By the summer of 2010 when everyone was focused on LeBron James and where he was going, Shaq was still requesting big money from teams. Realization hit when the preseason had begun and Shaq still didn't have a team. He settled for a lesser role with the Boston Celtics, but spent almost the entire season trying to rehab his body and get into shape. It was clear that his time had passed. My grandmother always says, time waits for no man. Shaq has had a career most players could only dream of. He has made an insane amount of money on and off the court. But I cannot and will not jump on the bandwagon and claim he is the greatest, because it's just not true. He never stuck with a team when they were down and then worked his way back up. Without a Robin, he never had a chance to be Batman, and anytime he won, he ALWAYS had a Robin! He was not as versatile, savvy or as quick as Hakeem Olajuwon, or as constant as a Bill Russell. He will be mentioned, he just isn't the greatest! So, farewell Shaq! It was fun and entertaining to watch!

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