Since his rookie season in 1992, Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal has been considered one of the most dominant centers in the league, if not most dominant players altogether. But what kind of player is he off the court? And for that matter, how good is he anymore? Shaq has now left four teams on bad terms: the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and Phoenix Suns. He allegedly stole a television series idea from a teammate and burned several bridges. Maybe a closer look into the career of Shaq Diesel will reveal what kind of player and person he really is.
When Shaq came into the league out of LSU, he was a force from the start. As a rookie, he started in the All-Star Game and won the Rookie of the Year Award while scoring 23.4 points, 56.2% shooting, 13.9 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game. He got better and better over the next few seasons, developing into arguably the best center in the league. In his second season, he paired up with rookie Penny Hardaway and led the Magic to their first ever playoff appearance, while averaging 29 points, 60% shooting, and 13 boards. In his third season, he even led the league in scoring and led Orlando to the NBA Finals, where they were swept byt the Rockets. In his fourth and final season with the Magic, he made his fourth All-Star Game although he missed 28 games of the season due to injury. Eventually the Magic lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Bulls.
That off-season, O’Neal left the team who drafted him number one four years previous to bolt to a bigger market, namely Los Angeles. Shaq was able to expand his fan base and he could also better show off his rap and acting skills. Shaq was able to match up with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, winning three straight NBA Championships from 2000-2002. but ran into a rough spot with fellow alpha dog Kobe Bryant in 2003. The Lakers started out the year 11-19 and Shaquille O’Neal was hurt with a toe injury. The Lakers eventually made the playoffs, but lost in the quarter-finals to the Spurs. During that off-season, Bryant was accused of rape and had to miss training camp because he had to recover from knee surgery. The Lakers also added Karl Malone and Gary Payton, and they were anointed by most to be a lock to win it all. They didn’t end up winning, and Shaq and Kobe were at odds. O’Neal said that Kobe needed to be more of a passer and hinted that Kobe wasn’t that important to the team. One of the two had to go. O’Neal requested a trade after head coach Phil Jackson left, and he was traded to Miami for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and a 1st-rounder. Kobe was made out to be the bad guy, partly to do with his rape charges, but was he really the villain?
Shaq had already burnt bridges in two cities, but decided to join up with rising superstar Dwayne Wade for a chance at another championship. In his first season in Miami, he helped lead the Heat to within a game of the Finals. Shaq signed a 5-year/$100 million extension and a year after signing, he assisted Dwayne Wade to a third straight Eastern Conference Finals trip and eventually to a championship. But just like in LA, Shaq Diesel ran into problems and forced a trade. His numbers were down, for the first time ever, he didn’t make the All-Star Team, and he wasn’t getting along with Pat Riley, the coach and GM of Miami. Shaq ended up the best team player in South Beach, partially having to do with the fact that Dwayne Wade isn’t doesn’t strong of a need for shots like Kobe needed.
For whatever reason, the Suns decided to blow up their up-tempo team by trading high-flying Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for Shaq. Before the trade to acquire the Shaqtus, the Suns had the best record in the West at 34-14, but wanted a big man to match up with Tim Duncan and Yao Ming. But like most people thought, the trade didn’t work. The Shaqtus couldn’t run with Steve Nash, Raja Bell, and Boris Diaw, and they had to reconstruct their offense to accommodate O’Neal. The Suns ended the year as the 6th seed in the West with a 55-27 record, but were a shell of their old team. They were beat down if five games by the team they acquired Shaq to beat, the Spurs. The next season wasn’t any better. He nearly set career lows in rebounds, assists, blocks and points. Word came out that Shaq stole the idea to his show on ABC, Shaq Vs., from Steve Nash. Nash later said that either he or O’Neal had to go, and for Steve Kerr, the choice was easy. Shaq was so dumped off to the Cavs for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic, both of whom were bought out a few weeks later.
On to the Cavs chapter. While many thought that the move to Cleveland would lead them to the promise land. But here are some points to show why it hasn’t. Shaq, for the first time, isn’t in a warm city. Cleveland is way colder than Orlando, LA, Miami, or Phoenix. Also, Shaq is still an alpha dog, and the Cavs already have one, namely one certain LeBron James. This could bring up another Kobe/Shaq feud. Shaq has, so far, been terrible in Cleveland. He is averaging 11 and 7 while his team is 6-3, a far cry from the kind of year they expected. He has slowed down the Cavs just like he did with the Suns.
Now, lets take a look back at what happened after Shaquille O’Neal left the Lakers and Suns. Last season, the Lakers won the title and Kobe looked like he was a changed man, or he was never the bad guy. Maybe Shaq was the bully the whole time. After all, he did force himself out of four cities and doesn’t seem to get that he’s not the same dominant guy he used to be. The Suns replaced Shaq with Channing Frye, a former lottery pick considered by most a bust. They are now back to their up-tempo team before they traded The Matrix to get Shaq Diesel.
So what is the moral of this story, or rather, the point of this theory? Shaq is no longer an asset to fast paced teams, they have to fit his needs. He is an alpha dog who has aged rapidly, but still demads the same amount of touches per game. Maybe Kobe isn’t that bad and Shaq is the villain. So we should celebrate the career that was for Shaq Diesel and try to forget what has happened since he won it all in 2006.