The first time I ever saw him play, he scared me. I was so shook up by his power and ability that I convinced myself that he couldn’t do what he did against NBA talent. Those were college kids, not big time ball players who could pose some resistance and relegate him to regular player status.
I guess you could say I was in denial.
When he entered the NBA in 1992 and began wreaking havoc against the very people I said he wouldn’t be able to, I was awestruck, a bit bewildered, and most of all, I was wrong. And I hate being incorrect because it’s not good for my ego. But it was what it was and fact was fact.
Shaquille O’Neal was incredible.
From the peripheral I was able to marvel at his talents. Laugh at him breaking backboards and shaking my head after he made a basket stanchion collapse, but I really didn’t understand his abilities until he became a Laker. Now that he was on my team, I was granted the privilege of watching him play on a nightly basis, and it was a sight to see.
The way he jumped. The spin moves. The And-1s. The dunks! The way he disregarded defenders as if they were annoying insects at a picnic. It wasn’t just domination, it was comical and I laughed hard because the guy causing the damage was on my team… and I was proud.
Yet as time elapsed, I noticed a change. After he helped lead the Lakers to three consecutive titles, he wasn’t the same. He was getting injured more often; he started to gain too much weight for a basketball player, and just didn’t seem as motivated to smash the opposition. And as a result, the opposition didn’t seem to be as threatened by his mere presence as they once were.
Shaq Diesel was slowing down.
And hey, that’s natural. There’s only so much wear and tear the human body can take. Even Shaq wasn’t immune to that. But what bothered me was he seemed to be content with that. He wasn’t like Karl Malone, whom despite the futile attempts to thwart Father Time kept trying nonetheless. Using the off-season to workout rigorously to get stronger and improve his conditioning so he wouldn’t be severely limited by his advancing age. Instead, Shaq partied hard and succumbed to toe injuries, costing his team the chance to win four straight championships.
The big man got lazy and it angered me.
I couldn’t understand how someone with his talent and ability lacked the motivation to be the absolute best. But he did, and as much as he claimed to be viewed as the baddest ever, he really didn’t want to be. What a shame.
Then after conflicts with a particular teammate and management, Shaq packed up his things and went east to finish off his career and add to his legacy.
Now here we are today and Big Shaq has the ultimate opportunity to do just that. His team is in the NBA Finals trying to capture the Glory for the first time in franchise history. But there’s a problem, unfortunately, Shaq is facing his basketball mortality. And he’s not handling it very well.
It’s gotta be tough, being contained by DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier, guys he used to destroy on a regular basis. Who would’ve ever thought Shaquille O’Neal could be rendered ineffective on a basketball court? But that’s what has transpired after the first two games of the 2006 NBA Finals, culminated by his abysmal 5-point performance in Game 2. Poor Shaq was so distraught that he became the BIG UNPROFESSIONAL and refused to talk to the media after the game.
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat are one defeat away from having no hope of salvaging this series, and honestly, I hope the Mavs dispense of them swiftly. But the most compelling event of this series is the decline of Shaq. We are watching the end of a truly great player, and despite my contempt for him, it’s a little sad.
Shaquille O’Neal went to Los Angeles as an ‘is’ and left for Miami as a ‘was’ and no matter how hard he tries, there’s nothing he can do about it.