In the wake of Dwight Howard’s response to Shaquille O’Neal’s assessment that he (essentially) wasn’t a real center, I felt compelled to offer a few thoughts on the matter. For the record, I was a huge Shaquille O’Neal fan throughout his entire career. Regardless of his faults, you couldn’t tell me a single negative thing about him, as I would always have a comeback in his defense. Even when he dogged Kobe Bryant. Even when he continuously permitted himself to slip further and further out of shape and decided to earn the “Company Time” moniker. Even when he ran his mouth in a reckless and disrespectful manner toward the legendary Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss during a pre-season game. Although it hurt, I didn’t even stop loving O’Neal when he claimed the city and fans were fake upon walking out of the door.
Full disclosure, I’ve had several positive exchanges with O’Neal over the past 12 years and have always (obviously) held him in a very high regard. In my younger days, I played ball at Genesta Park in Encino (a suburb of Los Angeles), and O’Neal would routinely show up in a drop-top or on one of his famed choppers. He was truly a man of the people, as he would just sit back and watch/commentate/laugh at the nightly games for hours while ingratiating himself to any fan that decided to sit/stand next to the park bench.
I was also at a Sherman Oaks jazz/blues establishment once called Cozy’s on the night the Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings (June 2, 2002) in Game 7 of the WCF when to everyone’s shock and amazement, in walks Shaq…not four hours after the game had ended. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, I pressed on and went back to celebrating my birthday while the crowd made the rounds to congratulate and thank him for pulling out the OT nail-biter.
My reason for referencing all of that (as will be the case to follow), is to qualify my measured and heavyhearted words on Shaquille O’Neal’s recent comments about current Lakers center Dwight Howard. As I’m sure each of you are well aware, O’Neal has maintained a long-standing disdain and negative commentary for the man (Howard) he feels has infringed upon his likeness and legacy, but I can no longer hold the sympathy I once held for O’Neal. That ship has completely sailed, as he has transitioned from complaining about Howard adopting his nickname to simply spewing bitterness and unnecessary vitriol toward the currently great big man.
Although Howard has understandably fired a few shots back in O’Neal’s direction at times, I have to seriously commend the maturity and restraint he’s displayed during this drama. The most unfortunate aspect of this is that O’Neal seems to think another man’s greatness somehow diminishes his legacy and place in the annals of basketball. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as O’Neal will forever be locked in history as an all-time great. He’s a 15-time All Star. O’Neal is currently 6th (just behind Bryant) on the all-time NBA scoring list. His four titles and three Finals MVP’s cannot be questioned.
I try not to get into ‘what could have been’ or “if only Shaq had possessed the dedication of this player or that guy“…but it is only fair to acknowledge the feeling that it truly seems as though O’Neal (himself) seems somehow dissatisfied with his own accomplishments and career. That is not intended as disrespect or slight of any kind, as I will forever be appreciative for the eight years, three titles, and countless moments of sheer entertainment whether through his play on the court or via post-game quotes that O’Neal bestowed upon the fans of Los Angeles. That said, I believe it is an absolutely fair assessment of O’Neal’s actions, that his insecurity is at least in some way based on his own internal doubts. What else could explain such behavior from a highly intelligent and (normally) image conscious man?
Next Page: Shaq’s Off-Base Claims