Friday, December 23rd, 2011 at 4:40 pm  |  16 responses

Shaq Forever

When you’re as entertaining and knowledgeable as Shaquille O’Neal, you’re going to be around for a long time.

Originally published in SLAM 154

by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

Shaquille O’Neal catches the pass and sprints for the corner of the floor, moving with amazing speed and surprising athleticism. He spots up behind the three-point line, then bounces high into the air. Just as he’s about to release the shot, I catch up to him and shove him with both hands, as hard as I can. Shaq stumbles backward but gets the shot off, and as the ball swishes through the net, he punctuates the points by yelling, “Ack-Ack!”

We are able to laugh about this violence, because we’re actually sitting next to each other on a couch in a midtown Manhattan photo studio playing NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, the latest hoops game from EA Sports. Shaq is spending an October day in Gotham as the game’s spokesman, playing game after game using the Dallas Mavericks as his virtual team, jacking up jumpers with Dirk every time down the floor.

“Dirk’s a great shooter,” Shaq reasons, “and even though I’m not a shooter, I love to shoot. You can just step back and hit threes. See, he’s already got 13 points.”

A few months earlier, after his ’10-11 season was cut short by an Achilles injury, Shaq announced that after 19 seasons of wreaking havoc in the lane, his playing days were over. Among NBA fans—particularly fans of whatever team he was playing against—Shaq was always a divisive figure. Was he only good because of his God-given size  (7-1, 300+ pounds)? Was he literally just throwing his weight around?

Two decades after Shaquille O’Neal first stepped in, he leaves the NBA with four rings, three Finals MVP awards, one regular-season MVP award, eight All-NBA First-Team nods, 28,596 points, 13,099 boards, 15 All-Star appearances and just as many nicknames. Make all the excuses you need to make, but there is zero doubt: The Diesel was the most dominant post player of his era, and arguably of all time.

While we won’t see him on the court again, fans won’t lose him entirely: Once the NBA lockout ends, Shaq will join Turner Sports as their newest NBA analyst. Seems like a perfect role for the big man, because when Shaq talks, it’s always worth a listen.

SLAM: Did you play a lot of video games growing up?

SHAQ: Yes. I played NBA Jam, the arcade version. Matter of fact, I’ve still got the arcade game at the crib.

SLAM: Did you play video games on the road? Did you travel with your PS3 or Xbox?

SHAQ: Yes. I played Jam, then I started playing fighting games, Mortal Kombat. Then I put it down for a while. Then when Grand Theft Auto came out I started playing again. Now, the Call of Duty game, I’m playing that. But I’m about to go back to Jam.

SLAM: Did you play video games at LSU?

SHAQ: I did. What was that game…the basketball game…

SLAM: Double Dribble?

SHAQ: Exactly! I was the master of Double Dribble! I used to go to the corner, and it was like, “Ack-Ack!”

SLAM: How would you fix the lockout?

SHAQ: I’d try to have a friendly conversation. And then you have to try to protect people from each other. Like, I hear some of the owners say the players are making so much money. Well, why are you paying them that? The answer to that is because if you don’t pay them, guys like Mark Cuban will. So, we have to make a system that protects everybody. I also think we have to have a system where we can’t have the super teams anymore, but I don’t think dropping salaries is the answer.

SLAM: You sort of had the super team thing in L.A.

SHAQ: What we had was me, Kobe, Karl and GP.

SLAM: But it didn’t work.

SHAQ: Didn’t work. Those guys took less money, and it didn’t work for us. So I don’t know, hopefully it gets worked out. Because if it doesn’t, the people who lose out are the fans.

SLAM: What happened last year in Boston?

SHAQ: I just got hurt. That’s it. It was ripped, and I never got the MRI because I didn’t want to face the fact that it was ripped. When I finally got the MRI, it was ripped in half. I had to get surgery. That was the only thing. I didn’t want it to go like that, but I knew my career was either going to end on a sour note or a great note. It’s a fact.

SLAM: Did you think about trying to play this season?

SHAQ: No, because Achilles injuries for regular people take almost a year to heal. So I would have missed training camp, missed the All-Star Game, then tried to come back. It wouldn’t have been worth it.

SLAM: When you entered the NBA, you didn’t know exactly what kind of career you would have. Now, looking back on it, did it go about the way you thought it would?

SHAQ: Yeah, it actually did. Before I got that first ring, I thought I never was going to get one. Then I met Phil, changed my philosophy and knocked out three: bang-bang-bang. Then lost it for a while, then got another one in Miami. Even though I got four, I felt I should have six or seven. The first, with the Magic, we shouldn’t have lost that one. Then when the Lakers lost against Detroit, we shouldn’t have lost that one. And we should have made it to the Finals the year I played with LeBron, but we never quite got that far. In my mind I should have seven rings; in my mind I should be number two in scoring; in my mind I’m the most dominant big man to ever play the game.

SLAM: Who did you hate playing against?

SHAQ: Nobody.

SLAM: I mean, not players who could stop you, but guys who annoyed you.

SHAQ: Yeah, OK, that would be Oakley, Barkley—the little strong guys. And the guy from Detroit.

SLAM: Rodman?

SHAQ: No, big guy.

SLAM: Laimbeer?

SHAQ: No, big butt guy. He always used to pull the chair in the post.

SLAM: Mahorn?

SHAQ: Rick Mahorn! He always used to pull the chair! Aw, yeah, Rick Mahorn.

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  • http://www.t-mac.com/tmac/index unf*ckwitable

    “I know i would get mine”.

  • http://slamonline.com 1982

    Great interview. Not as much trash talk as I expected, considering his book. But great interview. Thanks

  • T-Money

    more moves than wilt? lol

  • shutup

    I agree with the more moves than Wilt, there were more 7 footers in the league when Shaq played. Wilt had better touch but Shaq’s footwork was better, probably the best size/weight footwork. I completely acknowledge Olajuwan as the best footwork of any center, by far. but Shaq is my number two.

  • Zabbah

    What’s wrong, T-Money? You think Wilt had more moves than Shaq? Please name them because I can only think of one Wilt move, the finger roll. Friggin noobs be trollin.

  • Mike

    i like how he compares he and wilt to older and newer cars. Depends on how you look at greatness. no doubt that Wilt was greater in his time, and relative to his opposition, a greater player. But if you put the two men on the court together , shaq would have a lot of advantages, not the least of which is that he had the benefit of watching and learning from Wilt.

  • Justin G.

    Mike, that doesn’t really make sense. If you put them on the court together, assuming both in their prime, they’d both see each other. Wilt wouldn’t get the same kind of positioning against Shaq in the post and let’s face it, he didn’t have a lot of moves. He had the finger roll and turn around jumper. Shaq had more than just that although I guess the argument could be make that those two moves were all Wilt needed

  • shutup

    I already stated i believe that shaq had more moves but wilt was deceptively quick, i think i heard that he was a track star as well. Wilt would beat Shaq up the court, i think running in the open court Wilt would have the advantage but once the offense settles Shaqs power would overcome Wilt. Like Shaq said we will never know but its great to imagine.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    No one here saw Wilt play during his prime, so let’s just hold off on the “Shaq had more moves than Wilt” BS. Wilt would destroy Shaq (too quick, too fast, jumps too high)

  • shutup

    you just said no one saw wilt play during his prime but yet you say he would destroy him, smh your a joke. Ive seen enough clips of Wilt to come to a reasonable conclusion that Wilt being head and shoulders above the players of his era relied on his height more than anything, his turnaround jumper was his go to move, he scored a lot of points beating his man up the floor. Shaq on the other hand crated havoc in the half court set, against quite possible the greatest big man era in the nba. Go youtube Wilt’s highlights, and then compare them to Shaq’s and maybe you’ll understand why people came to the conclusion Wilt didn’t possess the footwork or moves that Shaq had.

  • Mike From Spain

    I have never seen Wilt play, but I think it is just not possible for any 7 footer to have such quick, nimble footwork as Shaq. Olajuwon had more moves but… quicker?

  • Justin G.

    Olajuwon was quicker for sure but for a big man Shaq was incredibly quick too. To be honest, Olajuwan and Wilt might be a more intriguing matchup because Wilt’s not beating Hakeem up and down the floor for extra points and Hakeem was obviously a great shotblocker too. Could Wilt handle Olajuwan’s myriad of moves? Nobody else could and he could hit the 10-15 ft. jumper too

  • http://knicks.com Gametimeweezy

    Olajuwon was awesome but for those three championship years in L.A. Shaq was the most dominating big man ever.

  • S-Bizzle

    All this talk about Wilt killing Shaq is ridiculous. If Wilt played today he’d look like one of those awkward centers from Georgetown… and would probably avg 12-9.

  • OneStep

    Yeah Wilt had no moves. He scores 100 in a game with no moves. He averages 50 for an entire season with no moves. STFU! I reckon Wilt and Shaq would be a pretty even match-up in the same way that Hakeem and Shaq was. Speed and quickness versus size and strength. Face-up game versus low-post game. All I know is that it would have been a fun game to watch.

  • James Aka…

    I think its also a bit misleading to argue about the foundation from the top floor. Everytime you start out learning an already decent set of moves and then building your own of course you’re going to look more advanced. Those moves can tell us things about agility and timing which do allow for real points of comparison, but comparing late 90′s shaq to early 60′s wilt is not useful. What would shaq have done with a 6 foot lane? What would wilt have done getting to steady other greats, palming the ball without being called for double dribbling, bunny hopping across the lane without being called for a travel, running over people or bowing them out of the way without always being called for an offensive foul? I’m picking on shaq a bit here but the point im making is that facile comparisons give you misleading answers.

    Most people who analyze these things intensely put shaq below wilt, and I can’t personally think of one who did the reverse. Some say wilt was the greatest ever overall, and I’ve never heard that about shaq. Finally, for the individual above who said he would go 12-9, Wilt was dusting the showtime lakers players during practice in his early 40′s. In other words, his athleticism was intact enough years after retiring to own pickup games against magic johnson. If you don’t think wilt holds up in todays game, you don’t think Magic Johnson does either.