Whenever anybody thinks about the game of basketball, the NBA or sports in general, the first name that usually comes to mind is Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. Throughout his career he scored over 32,000 points, won six NBA titles, six NBA Finals MVP awards and five NBA regular season MVP awards. He undoubtedly will go down as the greatest player in the history of not only basketball but all of sports. Every time a big name enters the NBA Draft, everybody always asks “Is this kid the next Michael Jordan? Michael has always been the measuring stick for NBA stars. Even today you can see debates daily on TV about how current stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James compare to Jordan. The argument that Jemele Hil from ESPN. com raised is could Shaquille O’Neal have been this measuring stick? Could he have gone down as the greatest player in NBA history instead of Jordan? Jemele’s argument is that Shaquille O’Neal who entered the league in 1992 should have been the man that goes down as the greatest player of all time.
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Shaq was almost a perfect response to Michael Jordan.
Where Jordan was psychotically determined and polished, Shaq was often goofy and darling. Nothing mattered more than basketball for Michael Jordan, and it showed. When Jordan was working tirelessly toward bettering himself for the next season, Shaq was shooting movies portraying him as a genie or a superhero. While Jordan was in the gym shooting for hours on end, Shaq was recording rap albums which sold very poorly. For Shaq, basketball was the day job. A day job he did seem to love and that he was obviously incredible at.
But the game was just a piece of him. For Michael Jordan the game was him, it was what he lived for and he strived to be the best at what he does. We sit at the end of his long and great 19 year NBA career and we know now basketball was just a piece of Shaq. She attempts to convince the reader of how it could have been if Shaq had applied himself to the same level of intensity that Michael did to make himself the best in the game. Jemele isn’t the only person that feels this way, even the greatest coach in NBA history shares the same sentiment.
Phil Jackson who coached both Jordan and Shaq says that Shaq could have been the greatest of all time. Jackson went on to say that Shaq easily could have won 10 or more MVP awards and more than the 4 Championships he won. Shaq could have been the most dominant ever, as he often liked to refer to himself. Jemele points out that when he was at is best, nobody can stop himHe could have been a bigger Jordan, a perennial MVP, a perennial champion. He could be the undisputed best center ever instead of a candidate for just the top three or top five.
He could be in the conversation for the best player ever. At his peak, focused totally on making himself the best, Shaq was completely unstoppable. He seemed to only really apply himself for a year or two at a time. His 2000 season was legendary, and he should have won the 2005 MVP award over Steve Nash for his brilliant comeback with the Miami Heat. His 2009 All-Star bid was well-deserved at age thirty six. But in the context of Shaq’s career, those look more like comets than a prolonged meteor shower.
O’Neal was regularly a shooting star. But the greatest — the Jordan’s, the Russell’s, the Wilts, the Magic’s, the Kobe’s — don’t take years off, don’t let up. Shaq did. Another aspect that Jemele points out about how Shaq could have done better in his career is taking care of his body. During his career he missed over 300 games due to injury which is an equivalent to about 4 seasons. Former teammates and coaches have blamed his conditioning and poor work ethic for the amount of games he missed.
I feel that Jemele stated the biggest difference between Shaq and Michael Jordan when she said; “one thing I’ll never forget is how Shaq sabotaged the Lakers’ opportunity at an unprecedented fourth straight championship in the 2002-03 season. ” This is the season where he put off toe surgery before the 2002-03 season until training camp started and famously said “Since I suffered the injury on company time, why shouldn’t I be able to get surgery and do recovery on company time? He went on to miss the first twelve games of that season and the Lakers failed to win a fourth consecutive NBA Championship as the Lakers never seemed to get into any sort of rhythm that season. Jemele also correctly stated that Shaq usually treated his body with disregard and often came into the season overweight and out of shape. He always figured that he can play his way into shape during the season. This is one of the reasons I feel he wasn’t able to maintain his dominance into his later seasons.
A player like Michael Jordan and even Kobe Bryant continued to play well even after they started to age because of the dedication and commitment they gave to the game of basketball and keeping their bodies healthy whenever they can. Shaq’s former teammate Kobe Bryant manages to this day in his 16th season to continue to play through injuries whether it’s with a broken index finger on his shooting hand, torn ligaments in his shooting wrist and knees with barely any ligaments left. He finds a way to play and play at a high level, in his 16th season Kobe Bryant is leading the league in scoring with over 29 points per game.
In Shaq’s 16th season he averaged less than 13 points per game. Another aspect of Shaq’s game that held him back from being in the greatest is free throw shooting. The foul shot is the second easiest shot in basketball, it’s a wide open 15 foot shot. During his career Shaq shot less than 53% from the free throw line, missing over 5,000 shots. His poor free throws shooting led to a strategy from opposing coaches called ‘Hack a Shaq’, where in the fourth quarter opposing players would intentionally foul him and send him to the free throw line to prevent the Lakers from scoring.
Although Shaq liked to make fun of his own free throw shooting in movies and skits for Saturday Night Live, he never took the time to try and rectify his shot. And this takes me back to basketball just being a day job to Shaq because he could have stayed after practice for a few hours a day to work on his shot, but rarely if ever did. I think that he just felt that he can get by on his physical dominance, but sometimes hurt his team. I don’t put the blame solely on Shaq for this however, at some point his coaches need to step in and help him work on his form, but none of his teams ever did that.
If he had improved his free throw shooting I feel that he could have added another 2,000 points to his career total. I feel that the audience Jemele is trying to reach is the basketball purists, the people who don’t feel there is even an argument as to who the greatest player in NBA history is. She is trying to convince these people that there would be an argument if only Shaw had better work ethic and desire to be the best. I’ve watched Shaq throughout his career because I’m a fan of the NBA, more notably a Laker fan and I agree wholeheartedly with her point of view.
I’ve seen firsthand just how dominant of a force he can be when motivated and I definitely feel that he is in the top five when it comes to the greatest players of all time. But if he had worked in the offseason to make himself better, keep himself in shape and work with his teammates rather than stirring up drama with the likes of Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade, I do think it would be feasible to say that Shaq would have went down as the greatest player in NBA history.