More than 10 years after Michael Jordan announced his second retirement, who is the most accomplished player of the post-Jordan generation: Shaq, Kobe or Duncan?
When I broached that question two weeks ago, before Game 5 of the NBA Finals, to some pretty decent basketball minds — Jack Ramsay, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson — Duncan was almost a unanimous choice.
While all three players have four rings, the thinking went that Duncan was the No. 1 player on all four of San Antonio’s title teams; Shaq rode Dwyane Wade to his fourth in Miami and Kobe rode Shaq for his first three in Los Angeles.
“I think I might go for Kobe,” Dr. Jack said, dissenting. “Because of the way down the stretch in big games he almost always comes up with the necessary play. There’s a killer instinct about him that I don’t see in the other three guys as much.”
But no one considered Shaq, who, like Duncan, has three Finals MVP awards, and unlike anyone since Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, has been to six NBA Finals and won four.
Wise concludes that O’Neal will pass Duncan if he leads the Cavaliers to the title next season. NBA championships are the barometer by which we judge all-time greats, and in many cases, rightfully so. Both Duncan and O’Neal own four rings and three Final MVP awards so it’s safe to say O’Neal will surpass Duncan if he wins his fifth NBA championship next season.
I beg to differ.
Duncan is the first player in NBA history to be named to both an All-NBA team and an All-Defensive team in each of his first twelve seasons (1997-98 to 2008-09). He won two regular season MVPs, and has kept the Spurs near the top of the standings since 1999. Shaq, by comparison, owns 1 regular season MVP award, and was named to an All-Defensive team three times. O’Neal has been dominant, but no player in the post-Jordan era compares to Duncan. Duncan’s offensive and defensive excellence have set a standard beyond reach of his rivals.