For those who thought Shaquille O'Neal was occasionally demotivated and lazy on defense, there might be an explanation for that. Apparently, the 4-time champion had a soft spot for his favorite opponents, most of whom he gave a pass on the court.
The Diesel once admitted that he enjoyed watching 4 corresponding players so much that he sometimes allowed them to do their thing on the court instead of stopping them. Ironically, these 4 players are guards and forwards, most of which O'Neal wasn't tasked to guard 1-on-1.
Shaq's soft spot for Allen Iverson
The four players that endeared O'Neal so much were Jason Williams, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Allen Iverson. Despite not winning a ring (except for Williams, who won with the Miami Heat in 2006), these players could do what O'Neal admitted he couldn't — crossover, spin moves, and score from the perimeter.
It was Iverson in particular who O'Neal admired the most, which was why he occasionally allowed A.I. to get to the rim instead of blocking his shot.
"There were guys that when we played them, I was such a fan I let them do what they wanted on me. White Chocolate (Jason Williams), I want him to go to work. Vince Carter, A.I. (Allen Iverson) and Tracy McGrady. Every time we played A.I., I liked him crossing over and he was tough. I could've blocked his shot multiple times, I just didn't want to," O'Neal said in an interview with Bleacher Report.
Shaq vs. A.I.
The most iconic battle between O'Neal and Iverson occurred in the 2001 NBA Finals when the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers despite Iverson's best efforts in 5 games. It's safe to assume, though, that Shaq didn't give Iverson a pass in this series, as O'Neal ended up winning the Finals MVP after averaging a mesmerizing 33 points, 15 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 3.4 blocks per game. O'Neal probably only gave a pass to A.I. during regular season games, but he was all business come Playoff time.
Both O'Neal and Iverson were inducted into the Hall-of-Fame together in 2006. Despite never winning a ring, the big man respected The Answer so much just because of the way he played the game. Like thousands of fans, O'Neal was struct by Iverson's crossovers, scoring abilities, and determination to be the best player on the court.
"Iverson had the heart of a lion. He did it his way. I was glad to go into the Hall of Fame with him," O'Neal said.
While both players had different career paths and a vast disparity between their achievements, the fact that O'Neal admired Iverson speaks volumes about how much the latter impacted and meant to the league during their era.