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“I wore number 33 in high school and college because of you” — when Shaquille O’Neal told Patrick Ewing that he was his favorite player

O'Neal and Ewing also believe that the days of big men imposing themselves inside the paint as they did for years now aren't as common as they used to be.
New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing and LSU Tigers center Shaquille O'Neal

Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O'Neal

Before Shaquille O'Neal became an NBA legend and 4-time NBA champion, he looked up to and studied the game of several players that came ahead of him, including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Jerry West, Dell Brown, Dave Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and Charles Barkley among others. But out of all the players he looked up to, his favorite was no other than Ewing, who O'Neal revealed that he modeled his game after.

O'Neal wanted to be the next Patrick Ewing.

Growing up, Shaq knew that his physique and game could very much be like Ewing's, who was one of the most dominant big men back in the 80s and 90s. Ewing was the type of big who would impose his physicality inside the paint on offense and defense, which was how he made a name for himself in the NBA.

Knowing that he had the physical features and capabilities to do exactly that, Shaq followed Ewing's career more than anyone — to the point that the New York Knicks legend became his favorite player. O'Neal idolized Ewing so much that he dedicated his jersey number both when he played college basketball at Louisiana State University (LSU) and in the pros to his basketball hero.

"Pat, I know me and you had some tough battles, but you were always my favorite player. I don't think you know this, but I wore number 33 in high school and college because of you," O'Neal told the Knicks legend on 'The Big Podcast With Shaq'"

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O'Neal did the right thing in idolizing and patterning his game after Ewing because he eventually turned out to be better than his idol. In college, O'Neal was already considered a dominant player during his 3-year stint in LSU, averaging 21.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks per game. He also was a two-time first-team All-American and Southeastern Conference player of the year.

When O'Neal got into the pros, his hard work and skill allowed him to go up against his idol. Although their prime years didn't clash (Ewing was already at the twilight of his career when he faced Shaq at his peak), O'Neal ended up finishing his career with a more decorated resume. This isn't a knock on Ewing per se (he is, after all, an NBA all-time great himself), but O'Neal just turned out to be the more successful player in terms of accomplishments.

O'Neal and Ewing believe that the big men in the NBA today aren't the same.

As both O'Neal and Ewing created and solidified their legacies by approaching and playing the game in a certain way, they couldn't help but marvel at how different the landscape for big men in the NBA has changed over the years. O'Neal and Ewing believe that the days of big men imposing themself inside the paint as they did for years now aren't as common as they used to be.

"The league has definitely changed. In our eras, bigs were in the blocks. Dunking, face-up, hook shots. In this era, most bigs are at the 3-point line, or they're in the pick-and-roll and catching lobs. So things definitely have changed. You and I played in a different era," Ewing said.

The swift change between this era's bigs compared to the past depicts how the game and the NBA generally have grown over time. It sure has its pros and cons and only time will tell if we'll ever see a player like O'Neal and Ewing again. Who knows? Maybe Giannis Antetekoumpo will sit at their table pretty soon. 

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