I once asked myself, “Would anyone read an article on how dominant Shaquille O’Neal was?”
“That would be like reading an article on how the sky is blue?” I retorted.
“Someone would probably read the headline, skim the first two paragraphs, and flip to the next article,” I thought, having a deniably non-crazy conversation with myself.
With Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell said in a Sports Illustrated feature; it was possible to get him to “deviate from [his] normal habits.” With Michael Jordan, Gary Payton‘s on the record saying it was possible “to wear him down.” Even Tim Duncan commented on LeBron James, claiming if you’re “guarding him with five guys, and keeping his rhythm down,” it’s possible to minimize his impact. But when it comes to Shaquille O’Neal, no player is spoken about with more blunt reverence as simply “the most dominant player ever.” But who would have ever imagined that the most dominant player ever would be anything like Shaq?
We’re talking about somebody who was swept six times, got pillaged by Hakeem in the Finals, constantly battled weight issues and worst of all — was a huge free-throw liability. On top of that, I’d argue he never took one NBA season 100% seriously in its complete entirety, except for 1999-2000. Yet if you could freeze NBA players in time capsules and sell them at a Space Jam market, playoff Shaq from 2000-2002 would be on the top shelf. So how does any of that make sense?
The answer is, it doesn’t. So let’s play a game to highlight just how improbable the Diesel really was: Can You Replicate Shaquille O’Neal’s Career!
First, we need to find a physical freak of nature (6 ft 4 in by age 10) to be raised under a strict disciplinarian (Shaq’s stepdad was an Army Sergeant). Already we’re looking at fifty-million to one. They need to only start playing basketball in high school but still break the all-time high school record for rebounds in any classification (791 rebounds during the 1989 season). Be so comfortable in their skin that they become an expert at using their body to enforce their will – becoming the first player ever to lead the SEC in points (27.6 ppg), rebounds (14.7), field goal percentage (62.8%), and blocked shots (140), playing at LSU. Add on top of that, without even playing a single game yet in the NBA, be a legit snub for the 1992 Dream Team. Where are we at now? Let’s call it fifty-billion to one.
By the halfway mark of his rookie year, they need to have already signed a seven-year $40 million contract, starred in Blue Chip, recorded a rap album, and be one of the eight certain franchise players in the league. For good measure, they also need to break so many backboards that the NBA changes its structure, drag a not-too-long-ago lottery team to the finals in his third season, which included going through a C+ Michael Jordan and an A+ Scottie Pippen. Does anyone know what the probability is now?
Force his way to L.A, win a championship with an evolving Kobe Bryant, coast on his physical gifts through two more championships, and endure an epic falling out with the now evolved Kobe Bryant. Go to Miami and get his revenge on the Lakers in 2006 (it would have been 2005 if Wade hadn’t been injured). Play a few more seasons than he probably should’ve to ring chase, then join TNT to create the best Basketball talk show ever – all on the back of Shaq’s (and the Chuckster’s) wild personality. I ran the math and was looking at gazillionfillionjillionrallydillionporiquillion to 1. That’s how rare Shaq is.
So sure, he may have never had that rival center to push him in his prime, and there was no way you could tell Shaq to start on the bench – even when he was 38 and looked 58. We may never forgive him for Kazaam or that he never seemed to leave a team on good terms. But nicknaming Paul Pierce the ‘Truth’ or calling himself ‘Big Aristotle’ seemed to make up for all of it. Even though you might feel he left a bit on the table, you can’t name at most 14 greater NBA players because Shaq might not have been the best, but he was the most dominant.