Shaquille O'Neal thinks there are a lot of guys who are great players but don't have what he describes as a "mean personality," which is an essential trait to be a dominant player, especially if you are a big man. Shaq said two players perfectly matched that description throughout his career, and they are none other than often forgotten Michael Olowokandi and Shawn Bradley.
They are the softest centers in the NBA
Having a great skillset and basketball fundamentals is an essential aspect of being a great NBA player, but having the right mindset or what some call a "killer mentality" is another crucial element that separates the great from the good. Having that type of mentality was beneficial for guys like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and a few other players because they could utilize their skillset with an attitude to dominate their opponents on both ends of the floor.
Shaquille O'Neal was that type of player because he understood he was the most physically dominant player every time he stepped on the court, no matter which big man was on the opposing team. Being competitive is also something that Shaq admired in others because it brought the best out of him as well, and in his book "Shaq Talks Back," he shared who are the two centers that could have been much better if they weren't so nice and were actually meaner to their competition.
According to Shaq, Shawn Bradley and Michael Olowokandi were the two centers he mostly remembers as good guys and skillful centers that never had the success they should have had in the NBA because of their friendly and polite demeanor.
"Maybe I'm too mean and competitive. But it's better than the alternative. I look at Michael Olowokandi and Shawn Bradley. They're big, they have skills. But they're just not mean. They don't play hard. That's why they're two of the softer centers in the league.
Shaq felt guilty for dunking on Bradley
Being a center in the 90s meant you had to go up against great and skilled big men almost every single night, and being soft wasn't an option because that would be immediately used against you in every possible way. Shaq recalls a story with Bradley when he fouled Shaq harder than usual and immediately after apologized, asking if Shaq was okay. That move caught Shaq by surprise since he didn't expect that and was even surprised Bradley was so worried about the foul.
One time Bradley fouled me, and I fell. You know what he said? You all right, man? You all right? You all right?" He said it about six times going down the court. "My fault, man. I didn't mean to do it." Finally I said, "I'm all right, Shawn. Don't worry about it."
To make it even more unusual, Shaq recalls a game where he dropped 40 points on Bradley, and when an NBA player gets scored on like that, he usually doesn't want to have anything to do with the opposing player and is waiting for the next game to get the revenge. But, right after the game, Bradley introduced Shaq to his entire family and his wife, which was something Shaq didn't expect by any means for someone he had just dominated in a basketball game.
One game I put up 40, 50 points, dunking on him. After the game, he brought his family over. He says, "This is my wife. She wants to take a picture. I'm like, "Nice to meet you." I smile into the camera, take the picture, and then felt guilty about dunking on him so many times."
There is a lot of truth to what Shaq said about having the necessary mindset and toughness to make it in the NBA and separate yourself from all the others. Being a center in the 90s and early '00s was a nightmare with literally no nights off when you have to go up against so many talented players. Even though most fans will remember Shawn Bradley and Michael Olowokandi, the reality is that they were never top-tier centers.
Both Olowokandi and Bradley spent multiple years in the league, which is an accomplishment by itself since the average player stays in the NBA for around four seasons. They were no busts, but they didn't have that "it factor" despite having all the tools to significantly impact the league. It's good being a nice guy like Bradley because some players don't want to change who they are for the sake of the game or winning, but when it comes to Shaq, it proved to work being a mean competitor when you look at the all the personal and team accolades he accumulated in his HOF career.