Young basketball fans can certainly identify Shaquille O’Neal. He’s the boisterous member of TNT’s in-studio NBA coverage. Or he’s that old slow mammoth center who barely played in Boston. Perhaps the big man who slogged through a year in Cleveland. Or maybe most charmingly the All-Star dancing machine.
Young Shaquille O’Neal was certainly a dancing machine and boisterous, but he was also a devastating force on the court. The 7’1″, 300-lbs leviathan was all-consuming. A box score of 24 points, 28 rebounds, and 15 blocked shots wasn’t out of the question with O’Neal. His dynamism, along with that of Penny Hardaway, lifted the nascent Orlando Magic franchise from perennial lottery club to title contender in two short years.
In 1995, the Magic lost to the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals, while in 1996 they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the 72-win Chicago Bulls. The team was clearly on the road of greatness, but Shaq deviated and set his sights on Southern California.
Joining the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 1996, Shaq would go on to lead the Lakers to 3-straight NBA titles from 2000 to 2002. No doubt, the presence of Kobe Bryant, particularly in 2002, was instrumental in bringing the Lakers these championships, but Shaq was in full Galactus mode.
Overall in these postseasons, Shaq averaged 30 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. In the Finals, he upped the devastation. Just let the following averages wash over you:
36 points, 15 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3 blocks, 60% FG
Seriously, when you nearly throw up a quadruple-double in a Finals game, you know you’re on to something special.
Sadly, O’Neal and Bryant couldn’t see eye-to-eye and keep the Laker dynasty going. O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004 where he would capture one final title alongside Dwyane Wade. However, from that point on, Shaq’s abysmal training began to catch up with him. Always injury-prone, Shaq would manage only two campaigns of over 60 games over the final six seasons of his career.
The Diesel sputtered, stalled, and finally stopped in 2011.
What he gave on the court, interestingly, remains under-appreciated. His deft passing hardly consumes our thoughts. His fleet feet give way to his monstrous strength in our minds. The way he could brutally gain position with his upper body masked what nimble footwork was aiding the process.
Even after obtaining 3 Finals MVPs, a regular season MVP, and an absurd 15 all-star selections, Shaq’s career still seemed unfulfilled. The only time Shaq seemed completely, totally, and all-out dedicated to being in peek basketball form was in 2000. And that’s a scary thing to consider that a man whose career was so awesome, didn’t even play to his maximum abilities.
I guess what Shaq should have done shouldn’t actually overshadow what he did.
Seasons Played: 1993 – 2011
4x Champion (2000-’02, 2006), 3x Finals MVP (2000-’02)
8x All-NBA 1st Team (1998, 2000-’06)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1995, 1999), 4x All-NBA 3rd Team (1994, 1996-’97, 2009)
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (2000-’01, 2003)
Rookie of the Year (1993), All-Rookie 1st Team (1993)
15x All-Star (1993-’98, 2000-’07, 2009)
NBA - 1207Games
23.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.3 BPG, 58.2% FG, 52.7% FT
2x PPG Leader (1995, 2000), 10x FG% Leader (1994, 1998 – 2002, 2004-’06, 2009)
3rd All-Time in FG%, 5th All-Time in Field Goals Made, 6th All-Time in Points, 7th All-Time in Blocks
14th All-Time in Rebounds, 19th All-Time in Minutes Played, 19th All-Time in Free Throws Made
14th All-Time in BPG, 20th All-Time in PPG, 27th All-Time in RPG