In his interview with Basketball Time Machine as part of the promotion of UNTOLD: Malice at the Palace Netflix documentary, Jermaine O'Neal shared the toughest player he had to defend and listed his top 5 players of all time. There were surprising exclusions and inclusions in his list.
Dirk Nowitzki hardest to defend
O'Neal played in the golden era of power forwards. He had to face the Tim Duncans, Dirk Nowitzki's, Chris Webbers, and Rasheed Wallaces of the NBA. He named the Dallas Mavericks legend as his most challenging assignment on defense.
Dirk is an all-time great and ranks 6th in scoring in the history of the NBA. These are valid reasons on their own, but Jermaine explained Nowitzki's ability to create shots on either leg, pull up jumpers even when out of balance, and high arching shots that are just too hard to block, make him hard to defend. O'Neal was quick on his feet and a great defender when he was still with the Indiana Pacers, making Dirk's choice even more special.
On the other hand, when asked who his top players are, it's surprising that the former Pacer did not include Nowitzki on his list after emphasizing why the shooter was the hardest to defend.
MJ, Magic, KD, Barkley, and Hakeem
The Columbia, South Carolina native, was then asked to name his all-time players. O'Neal picks Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kevin Durant, and Charles Barkley on his list. MJ is MJ, and he will always be on top of anyone's list, so that's expected. Naming Magic Johnson as the starting point guard is not that surprising either. However, his choice for small and power forward could raise not a few eyebrows.
KD was chosen because of the way he played after recovering from a career-altering injury. He remained the same lethal scorer he has been in his career. The fact that he is still playing and is still in his prime shows Jermaine O'Neal's respect for the Brooklyn Nets star. Barkley is also a controversial pick given that O'Neal played in the same position; he knows who's who when it comes to the best power forward of all time.
Charles Barkley is also a legend and even won an MVP. However, it's highly debatable if he is included in anyone's top 5 of all time. Hakeem Olajuwon's pick was also expected. Despite the abundance of great centers who played in the league, such as Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Hakeem's inclusion is justified. As O'Neal mentioned in the video, The Dream played like a ballerina, graceful and with flair in terms of his footwork and agility, which was rare for a big man.
The picks were a bit controversial and would stir up debates, but this top 5 was Jermaine O'Neal's choice, and he had all the reasons he chose them, even if it might sound surprising to others.