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Shaq modeled his game after Patrick Ewing: "I wanted to be like Patrick Ewing."

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Shaquille O'Neal is the most dominant big man and one of the greatest players in NBA history for two main reasons. The first is the most obvious one. Shaq made his defenders look like the weakest among men in his prime. The second reason is that amid all the praises and accolades he has received, O'Neal knows his success isn't just due to his hard work and talent. Shaq knows that the bigs that came before him paved the way.

Players that paved the way for Shaq

Among the shortlist of elite big men who have stepped foot on the hardcourt, there's only one who stood the tallest for Shaq. O'Neal recalled that as he was polishing his basketball moves, it dawned on him that he wanted to pattern his skill set to New York Knicks legend Patrick Ewing.

"My father always said I'm gonna make you like Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and Wilt Chamberlain. And as a youngster, I used to practice all these old school moves. And then one day I was watching Patrick Ewing at Georgetown. Big guy, mean, physical, throwing people around. I said dad I want to be like that and he said 'I know, that's why I got you watching the game.'… So I'm watching Patrick Ewing, he wore #33, as I became better I wanted to be like Patrick Ewing. He was the first guy when I played against him I was actually intimidated," O'Neal said.

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It can be challenging to pinpoint what exactly Shaq plucked out from Ewing's game and turned it into his own. Like O'Neal, Ewing was a force down the paint. In the mid-80s to 90s, it was pretty common to see Ewing slamming the ball down on his opponents' heads. At the same time, Ewing also lulled his defenders to sleep with his sleek footwork, which he capped off with a strong drive or a smooth midrange shot. And mind you, Ewing's midrange shot is money. 

Ewing's legacy

Unfortunately, Ewing is not usually mentioned among the greatest players of all time. Maybe because he played in an era when the Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-led Lakers and Michael Jordan-led Bulls reigned supreme. Also, Ewing is one of those players cursed by history as an elite player who failed to capture an NBA championship.

These perceptions of Ewing are nothing but trivial matters to Shaq. The Knicks legend will always have a special place in his heart. That's because like any other good student, Shaq knows he owes it to history.

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