Don’t fake the funk on a nasty dunk!
Today, it’s almost unquestionable that Shaquille O’Neal is right when he claims that he would average 50 points per game in today’s NBA, even without the free-throws.
Let’s rewind. After winning the 1992 NBA draft lottery Orlando Magic introduced it’s 1st overall NBA draft pick, Shaquille O’Neal for the 1992-93 season.
Remember, that was the time when all of the legendary 1980s big men were at the peak of their power. The huge number of contending teams featured unusually strong and physical frontline combinations like Cartwright & Grant (Bulls), Olajuwon & Thorpe (Rockets), Ewing & Oakley (Knicks), Robinson & Cummings (Spurs) etc., which would be very tough to deal with and beat in today’s NBA.
Before Shaq played his first NBA game in 1992-93 many critics raised the issue of whether his raw physical strength will be enough to make him a star in the League. Not a superstar, a star!
But 20-year old born in Newark, who starred for LSU at NCAA level, proved them all wrong. He dominated with his stature and strength, literally overpowering opponents, but at the same time, he proved to be more than just one-dimensional physical wonder on a basketball court.
His scoring repertoire included the turnaround jumper and the hook shot; he read the double-team situations well and regularly passed the ball to an open teammate; he had a very good sense where the ball would bounce for a board; he had the great feel and timing for blocking the shots.
Each and every game he faced one of the most prominent centers of that era such as Olajuwon, Ewing, and Robinson, he undoubtedly proved that he also belongs to that elite group.
Moreover, his dominating play on both ends of the floor rejuvenated the previously poor Orlando Magic team, which was a lough across the League before Shaq’s arrival. 1992-93 Orlando Magic had an impenetrable defensive wall and at the same time the unstoppable offensive machine wearing the Magic jersey with #32!
Magic ended 1992-93 season with a 41-41 record which was a huge improvement from 21-61 just a year ago!
One of the earliest and most memorable proofs that Magic could face the NBA elite came on January 16th, 1993 when Orlando visited 1991 & 1992 NBA Champions – Chicago Bulls. In an epic battle of two Midwest teams, neither team would give up an inch. NBA’s leading scorer Michael Jordan scored 14 of the Bulls first 18 points in a game.
But, at the same time Orlando’s rookie sensation was just too much of enigma for the Bulls centers 7’1” Bill Cartwright and 7’0” Will Purdue, making them literally invisible on both ends of the floor – for the game they combined for a dismal 8 points, 6 rebounds and hacked Shaq incredible 9 times!
But it didn’t bother Magic’s gentle giant who did whatever he liked on both ends of the floor finishing the game with 29 points, 24 boards (9 offensive) and 5 blocked shots.
After visiting Magic grabbed the 58-52 halftime lead in the Chicago Stadium, Jordan did all he could do to stop Bulls from losing this one, scoring from almost every possible distance and angle.
With the Bulls up 102-99 3.9 seconds before the final horn it looked that MJ’s absolute commitment and the unbelievable total of 64 points scored in a game have paid off.
But, when no one in the Chicago Stadium really expected it was Nick Anderson (18 points in a game) who banked in an incredible 27-foot three-pointer with 1.4 seconds remaining in the game and thus forced the overtime.
In the overtime, Jordan continued to score at will but Shaq’s domination was just too much to handle for the home team which lost the extra session by 12-16 and eventually the game by 124-128 to visiting Magic.
Already in his rookie season, Shaquille O’Neal proved to be a formidable force in the middle, averaging 23.4 points, 13.9 boards and 3.5 blocked shots, while shooting 56.2% from the floor.
Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj is a BN contributor. The 1980s and 1990s basketball specialist is also proud to be the author of the TOP 100 basketball biography ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’ (‘Drazen – Godine Zmaja’) which reveals the yet untold details from the life and career of the legendary NBA shooting guard Drazen Petrovic.
He resides in Zagreb, Croatia, working on his third book which tells the untold story of the 1989 Green Card Five.