If there is one position in the NBA that has had numerous greats throughout history, making for heated debates about who is the best, it's the center's role. Each era had its own great big men, and even though the modern evolution of the league has made them less important and valuable, we still can make countless lists.
It's a matter of preference
From George Mikan to Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and eventually the current guys like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić, basketball has always been revolved around height and the centers. Maybe the emphasis on the three-point shot downgraded their importance, but still, you need to have that inside presence.
A lot of these great centers played for one franchise, and that are the iconic Lakers. The team with the most titles in NBA history always loved to have the best big man in the game on their team, and it makes for tough debates about who was actually the best.
Shaq often voices his respect for the big men that came before him, but being the confident individual he is, he will always put himself highly on that list. Shaq often said Bill Russell is above him, but when it comes to guys like Wilt, Kareem, and Hakeem that are on a similar level, O'Neal thinks he is above.
On a recent episode of the Big Podcast, Shaq shared a short statement in which he shared how he took it a step further than Wilt and Kareem:
"My inspiration was Kareem and Wilt, and look where I am at. I took it to another level,"
Shaquille O'Neal, The Big Podcast With Shaq
Well, it's a hard thing to argue, especially when you remember how dominant Shaquille was in his prime and younger days. There are a lot of fans that would agree with that notion, but you have to look at the deep dive and numbers.
Career stats and accolades:
23.7ppg and 10.9 rpg
4x NBA Champion
3x Finals MVP
24.6ppg and 11.2 rpg
6x NBA Champion
2x Finals MVP
30.1 ppg and 22.9 rpg
2x NBA Champion
1x Finals MVP
Shaq maybe had the most impressive prime, but nobody is touching Kareem and his longevity when you look at the totality of their careers. Wilt probably has the best individual numbers, but the era he played in often downgrades his status. That's why the choice between these three great big men is really a matter of preference and depends on what you consider to be the most important factor of an NBA career.