“He’s been great all year. He was great in the playoffs and he’s showing everyone what he’s made of. He’s on the verge of being the latest great one with four rings. He’s come a long way. All I can say is, I’m happy for him. And I’m proud of him.” – Shaquille O’Neal on Kobe Bryant as reported by Stephen A. Smith of ESPN just three weeks ago
Shaq’s compliments came days before Kobe’s Lakers squared off against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. Bryant had averaged 32 points per game on 51% from the field in the three preceding rounds and the Lakers had lost only three playoff games leading up to the Finals.
But Bryant struggled in the NBA Finals and the Lakers were defeated in six games by the Boston Celtics.
So what did Shaq do?
O’Neal took the mic at a New York City nightclub two nights ago and freestyled: “check it, you know how I be, last week Kobe couldn’t do without me.”
What Shaq fails to mention is that Kobe couldn’t win a ring with O’Neal the last two years he played for the Lakers either. In large part because O’Neal delayed offseason surgery until shortly before the 2002-2003 training camp. Explaining himself by stating, “I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time.”
The Lakers dynasty ended that day and it may as well have marked the beginning of the end of Shaq’s time in Los Angeles.
The Lakers struggled through the majority of that season, ended up as the 5th seed in the playoffs, and were defeated by the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Rather than recommit himself to the organization that had payed him a total of $119,999,717 million over the previous seven seasons, Shaquille arrived to the 2003-2004 training camp grossly overweight.
The Lakers lost to the Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals and Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat on July 14th, 2004 for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round pick.
But I digress, the “six albums, two platinum, two gold” hip-hop legend didn’t stop with the dig at Kobe for losing in the Finals. Shaq also blamed Kobe for his divorce: “I’m a horse, Kobe ratted me out, that’s why I’m getting a divorce. He said, Shaq gave a ***** a mill, i don’t do that cuz’ my name’s Shaquille.”
O’Neal was referring to the 2004 Los Angeles Times story that quoted a police report as saying Bryant told detectives in Eagle, Colo., “he should have done what Shaq does … that Shaq would pay his women not to say anything” and already had paid up to $1 million “for situations like this.”
I remember Shaq vehemently denying the allegation and taking another shot at Kobe for thinking about him when Bryant was backed into a corner.
So what does this say about Shaq?
Why does he feel justified in criticizing Kobe after Bryant’s first Finals loss without him?
Is it because he won a ring with the Heat?
I’m sure Shaq feels responsible for Miami’s 2006 NBA championship. And to his credit, he was instrumental in Miami’s title run. But Dwayne Wade — not Shaq — won the 2006 NBA Finals MVP. Wade was also Miami’s leading scorer in the three rounds leading up to the Finals. Not to mention the fact that Miami benefited from a relatively weak path to the Finals (Chicago, New Jersey, Detroit) and some questionably officiating in the championship series.
The Heat were swept in the first round by the Chicago Bulls in 2007 and had the league’s worst record (9-37) when they traded Shaquille to the Suns this season. Shaq arrived in Phoenix for the Suns-Hornets game on February 6th and received a loud, standing ovation when introduced on the big screen. O’Neal greeted the Suns faithful by pointing to his ring finger, and giving a thumbs up — all but promising a championship.
He hasn’t delivered. Shaq and the Suns were taken out by the San Antonio Spurs in five games in the first round of the playoffs. The player Shaq was brought in to contain — Tim Duncan — averaged 25 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and shot 50% from the field.
Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant won the Most Valuable Player award this season and led his team to the NBA Finals. Defeating the same San Antonio Spurs team that elminated the Suns in the process.
Shaquille will be 37 next season. Steve Nash will be 35. Due to Shaq’s $20 million per year contract, the Suns have the eighth highest payroll in the league. Any improvements will have to come through trades or from the desire of a veteran to take a lesser deal for the opportunity to play with O’Neal and Nash. Don’t count on the latter. With two first round exits on his resume, Shaq is no longer a guarantor of championship contention.
The Lakers — on the other hand — have one of the youngest rosters in the league. Kobe is 29 years old, one year older than Shaq was when he won his first championship. Pau Gasol is 27. Lamar Odom is 28. And the Lakers center (Andrew Bynum) of the future hasn’t even purchased his first alcoholic beverage (20).
Kobe’s championship window (without Shaq) has just opened. O’Neal’s has slammed shut.
And deep down inside – Shaq knows it. More than anything else, that may have prompted his embarrassing display two nights ago. O’Neal loves the limelight, craves the attention. But his numbers have steadily declined over the previous three seasons and he’s no longer the most dominant big man in the game.
O’Neal will continue to say the right things to the media. But his true colors are beginning to show. It’s no coincidence that he’s left every team he’s played for (Orlando, Los Angeles, Miami) on bad terms. The common denominator in all of those ugly departures is Shaq.
Shaq’s criticisms didn’t end with Kobe either. He also took the opportunity to bash Patrick Ewing and imply that he’s had a better career than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “Ain’t nobody in the world do it bigger than me. That’s like Patrick Ewing having more rings than me. That’s like Kareem saying to himself he’s better than me.”
Patrick Ewing never won a championship. He was denied by Michael Jordan five times. Hakeem Olajuwon once. And the Tim Duncan led Spurs in 1999 when Ewing was injured. Shaq is more than familiar with all three of those guys.
Olajuwon gave O’Neal the lesson of his life when Hakeem’s Rockets swept O’Neal’s Magic in 1995. MJ’s Bulls swept Shaq and the Magic the following season. Duncan has defeated Shaq three times (1999, 2003, 2008).
O’Neal comparing himself to Kareem is downright laughable.
Jabbar won six NBA championships, six Most Valuable Player Awards, and retired as the NBA’s all-time leader in points scored and fourth in career blocks. Simply put, Shaq can’t hold a candle to Kareem.
In his younger days, Bryant might have put together an equally embarassing battle track. But after winning his first MVP and knowing that he’s the better player and has the better team, he’ll probably elect to let his play do his talking.
The Lakers and Suns are Pacific Division Rivals and will meet four times next season. Every one of those matchups will be circled on my calendar.
The 2007-2008 NBA season’s last “There Can Only Be One” commercial featured Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Bird and Johnson ended their promo by saying that “rivalries never die.”
Apparently, neither do some feuds.