Top 50: Shaquille O’Neal, no. 30
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
by Myles Brown / @mdotbrown
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not a singular act but a habit.”
The Big Aristotle quoted his namesake upon receiving his first MVP trophy in 2001 and eight years, three chips, three Finals MVP trophies and a dozen nicknames later, there are still no truer words when referring to Shaquille O’Neal. It’s merely a matter of what one believes he has repeatedly done.
From the moment he was drafted, there were never any doubts concerning his talent or his work ethic…..Well actually, there were questions about his talent. Off the court, that is. But his commitment never wavered and Shaq would be right back on set the following summer, determined to secure his spot at the box office and on the Billboard charts.
Despite the warranted criticism regarding his priorities, it remained clear that Shaq was simply too big of a personality to just play basketball. He was a rapping, acting, break dancing behemoth and we would’ve been cheated if he didn’t pursue other interests. We wanted him in Blue Chips, we needed him on Saturday Night Live.
But we also needed him to win a championship.
The question of how the games most unstoppable player was stopped so easily every spring was too maddening for nuance or circumstance. It demanded resolution, not excuses. So when Shaq turned his full attention towards basketball even his most ardent critics had no choice to acknowledge that when properly motivated, he was an indomitable force the league hadn’t seen since Chamberlain.
He won. Repeatedly. Threepeatedly, leaving his imprint on the record books, the lexicon and pop culture itself while proving Wilt wrong in the process. People did like Golitah.
But that was then and this is about now.
Or is it?
The Cleveland Cavaliers knew the stakes when they traded for Shaq this summer. Windows of opportunity are already small enough in this business and LeBron may not only shut it, but rip the foundation out if he leaves in 2010. They need to win and win now. Of course they’d want the Shaq that won alongside Kobe Bryant, but they’d settle for the Shaq that won with Dwyane Wade.
Eight years, three chips, three Finals MVP trophies and a dozen nicknames later, the question arises again. What will Shaq settle for?
This is the last year of his contract, but it remains to be seen whether he’s playing with any hopes of securing another one. Could this be the Diesel’s last lap? He doesn’t need the money, he’s been planning a life after basketball for quite sometime and he certainly wouldn’t have to sacrifice any of the limelight he’s enjoyed if he did choose to retire. The only things that can keep a player going at this age-besides a paycheck- are a sincere love of the game and a desire to compete. The challenge has been laid before him, but it remains to be seen whether he’s up for it.
Does Shaq have anything left to prove? Depends on who you ask. Does Shaq think he has anything left to prove? Probably not. It doesn’t seem so when he’s more preoccupied with crushing the competition in every sport except basketball. His place in history is safe, why should he care as much as we do anymore?
We wanted it all from Shaq because he had it all. The size, the skills and the Q rating. And now we want just one more thing. A rematch with the Celtics for another Game 7. A rematch with Orlando to show us who’s Superman. A showdown with the Lakers for one last shot at Kobe and a ring for the thumb. And LeBron. Well, I suppose that’s three things, but the more the better. Because what we really want is a properly motivated Shaquille O’Neal. It may be the last time we see him.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.