Theo Ratliff was one of the premiere shot blockers of the mid-90s to the early 2000s. The man led the league in blocked shots per game three times. Ratliff also played against prime Shaquille O’Neal. He had fond memories guarding the Big Diesel, which did not necessarily involve blocked shots.
The term “positionless basketball” did not exist when Ratliff was in the league. As such, when you were a center during his time, you had to prepare your body when the Los Angeles Lakers came to town or vice versa. Ratliff recalls waking up sore after a night out against Shaq. He also pointed out another center from the era, which motivated him to be better.
“Oh man, without a doubt it was big Shaq! (laughs) He outweighed me by 100 pounds and when I had to guard that guy, I woke up a lot more sore the next day. Then, there’s a guy like Alonzo Mourning, who was just so aggressive. He really taught me how to play in the league and helped me build myself up – build my body and my strength up. [I wanted] to be able to go match-up against those kind of guys. They really pushed me,” Ratliff said, per Hoops Hype.
True to his word, Ratliff was considered one of the top defenders during his time. He was an enforcer down low, instilling fear in fellow big men and smaller players. Apart from leading the league in blocked shots three times, he was also a member of the NBA All-Defensive Second Team twice. He was also an All-Star in 2001.
Ratliff also looked back on his training regimen back then. It was all about getting big and strong back in the day, which would not be not ideal in today’s game. In a way, Ratliff is saying that Shaq was the standard of all centers before. If you could stop Shaq (or at least give him a difficult time), then you would have no problem with other centers.
“The style of the game then kind of pushed me to be in the weight room and pound dumbbells. Now, it’s more linear and resistance and people aren’t really trying to get big. I had to try to get big and strong to be able to hold my own against those 280-pound centers and that was a feat,” Ratliff added.
Ratliff missed his 15 minutes of fame when he was traded in the middle of the 2000-01 NBA Season for Dikembe Mutombo. The Philadelphia 76ers made it to the NBA Finals that year. While they were manhandled 4-1, it would be interesting to know how Ratliff would’ve defended Shaq. Would he have done a better job than Mutombo, a legendary shot blocker himself? We'll never know.