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The Big Shaqtus Walks Away…

June 2, 2011 Leave a comment

In a move that is a year overdue, but is also somewhat surprising, Shaq, the Diesel, Superman, Shaq-fu, the Big Aristotle, and the Big Shamrock, is hanging up his size 749 boots and retiring to a life chasing crime and staring in bad television shows.  The news broke, as news does these days, not with a press conference, but rather with a video post on Shaq’s website… The Diesel is gassed.

When Shaq arrived in the league, he was a force beyond anything we’d ever seen.  Like Dwight Howard now, but bigger.  Much, much bigger.  He was larger than life both physically and in personality.  His presence marked the beginning of a new era, an attitude era if you will, in which the beloved stars of the previous generation (Magic, Larry, and eventually Jordan) gave way to the Hip Hop generation.  A generation embodied by Allen Iverson, but with his rapping career, intrepid acting efforts, and verbosity, Shaq was frightening to the establishment.  He was a controversial selection to the NBA’s 50 at 50, which since he’s now a clearcut top 15 player (probably top ten), seems silly, but that’s how it was.

In his first few years, he didn’t win anything: he couldn’t shoot free throws, was only capable of dunking, and wasn’t focused enough on basketball to be great.  Or so we said.  In reality, those complaints  – which today are being lobbed Howard’s way – mask our own limited understanding of the game.  We try to pigeon hole young players into what we already know.  We want Kobe and LeBron to be the “Next Michael,” not really understanding that by the time they are ready to be the “Next Michael,” they will just be who they are.

We wanted Shaq to shoot little 14 foot jump shots like Patrick Ewing; we wanted him to have a move like Hakeem Olajuwon’s dream shake; we wanted him to be stoic like David Robinson; to show as much effort as Moses Malone, or have a sky hook like Kareem.  Those were the centers we knew, the centers we loved.  We didn’t understand that Shaq was something different.  He was a beast, capable of getting to any spot in the paint he wanted.  From there, able to push, drive, bull his way to the basket where every attempt was basically a gimme.  And if dunking was his only shot, why did he need another when he dropped 56% from the floor as a 20 year old rookie?

Eventually, as always happens, new becomes old and Shaq matured into the Big Aristotle.  A sage source of wisdom, or at least a fabulous quote.  He also won.  And sure, it might have taken the presence of Phil Jackson to extract the most out of Shaq’s talent, but that’s what the great coaches do.  They make the great players find that inner pool of excellence, channel it, and extract it to the detriment of opponents.  And Shaq’s pool of excellence was a reservoir beyond almost any player in history.

He won only one MVP, but of course that’s more a sign that we took his dominance for granted, because he probably should have won three or four.  From 1997-98 to 2001-02 he lead the league in PER five straight times.  The first year of that run was Michael’s final Bulls season, so MJ taking home the hardware is pretty understandable.  But the next year the award went for a second time to Karl Malone…

That year, Shaq led Malone in PER 30.5 to 25.6.  He led Malone in points 27.2 to 23.8, rebounds 11.1 to 9.4, field goal percentage .576 to .493 and pretty much everything else you could think to look up.  But Malone was viewed as the successor to Jordan’s title as the best player in the game and once a narrative is written, it’s hard for the national media to un-write it…  Thus, Malone took home the prize.

Shaq-fu did win the MVP in 1999-2000, when he had perhaps his greatest season and won the first of four titles.

But that was it for Shaq and the MVP award.  In 2000-01 he lost to Iverson and in 2001-02 he lost to Tim Duncan.  He probably should have won both years, but Shaq didn’t even finish second.  He came in third behind Duncan in ’01 and third behind Kidd in ’02.  You could make a case that Duncan deserved the MVP in ’02, but every other year in that stretch should have been Shaq’s.

He loafed through regular seasons, he feuded with Kobe, he left every team he ever played for in an ugly fashion, but damn was he awesome.  At his best, he truly was Superman.  A power beyond anything we’d seen and a man capable of seemingly moving mountains.

Beyond that, he was witty, loquacious, and a boon to any reporter needing a quote.  He will almost certainly remain in our lives, a presence on studio shows and a series of other television projects that will probably make us groan, but I for one will miss watching him play the game.  Watching him grab rebounds and take off up the court like a point guard in a game of giants; watching him take that little one handed flip shot he perfected latter in life; watching him laugh, shout, and taunt other players; watching him do that little mirthful dance after he hit a big shot; watching him double clutch like Charles Barkley swinging a golf club while shooting foul shots; heck, I’ll even miss watching him grip the ball, it practically a tennis ball in his massive hands.

Hopefully as the Diesel walks away, we understand that there will never be another like him and that waiting for, or comparing, youngsters to Shaq-fu is futile.

Shaq truly was one of a kind.  A force beyond anything we’ve ever seen and a personality to match.

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Categories: Basketball Tags: , ,

Shaq’s Brain Fart…

January 22, 2010 Leave a comment

I normally take everything Shaq says with a Shaq-sized grain of salt, but yesterday when he said that someone should step up with a big pot of money so that LeBron (and Kobe and Vince Carter)* could compete in the slam dunk contest, with half the proceeds going to the relief effort in Haiti, he actually had a good idea, well, half a good idea.  Bringing in the big guns would allow the NBA to charge more for the dunk contest and if they then coerced cooperation from their corporate sponsors, they could put together a Shaq sized victory pot.  Say, a quarter of a million dollars, maybe more in years like this with a specific issue?  Where Shaq’s idea lost me, is that the victor shouldn’t give half the prize to relief efforts in Haiti, he should give the entire prize.

*(Michael Wilbon on PTI had a good point about how Kobe and Carter are probably beyond the point of competing in a dunk contest.  As much as we’d love to see them and still remember them as the ferocious dunkers of the past, now they’re like a slinky on the third child…)

Or, if LeBron wins and he cares more about donating it to a BC Children’s, or the Heart and Stroke Foundation, or the Jimmy Fund, or towards putting baseball diamonds in a small Mexican town, then that’s fine too.  The point is that they should be getting the top performers, performing for a cause.  That would generate renewed buzz in the event and it might generate interest from the top players themselves.  I mean, even if someone, like say Kobe, isn’t particularly charitable himself, it would be pretty easy for an agent or PR person to explain to him how competing in a dunk contest for charity creates goodwill, which ultimately leads to dollars on the bottom line for the player in future endorsement deals.  I really think this is a win-win… The only thing I can’t figure out is how Shaq stole this idea from Steve Nash?

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