Tuesday , Nov , 30 , 1999 Christopher Sells

Dunking on Shaq

The Big Witness has managed to avoid being on the wrong end of a poster for most of his career. Somebody better tell these youngsters that Shaq ain’t having it.

Dunking on ShaqFew things are guaranteed to the NBA big man. But if anything is certain in a center’s life, it is this:

You will get dunked on.

Sure, these guys probably have more longevity than your average NBA guard (you can’t teach height, after all) but many bigs are often thought of as unmarketable, awkward, plodding players that are only drawing an NBA check because they have to duck to get through most doors. This makes them less popular than many of their smaller, quicker and more coordinated counterparts and means that they get the short end of the stick in many cases.

This is not true for every player, but hovering around the seven foot mark means you have a target on your head that you cannot escape. How often have we heard of teams taking bets on who will dunk on the latest giant to enter the league? It’s almost inescapable and it doesn’t discriminate based on the amount of talent the player possesses. Scrubs and superstars get smashed on alike. Don’t believe me? Check the evidence.

Hakeem Olajuwon: dunked on. Tim Duncan: dunked on. Manute Bol: dunked on. Yao Ming: dunked on. Dikembe Mutombo: dunked on so much that someone made a top 10. Alonzo Mourning: ditto. Shawn Bradley: embarrased. Michael Olowokandi: used. Dwight Howard: caught slipping. Frederic Weis: teabagged. Patrick Ewing: disrespected. Greg Ostertag: you get the picture. Pick a big man’s name out of the NBA’s history books and you’ll undoubtedly find a video, photo or story of some sort about the time he got caught slipping and paid for it with his dignity.

If there’s one player who seems to have mostly escaped this curse, it’s Shaquille O’Neal. Sure, Derrick Coleman got him early in his career and Andrew Bynum put a nice spin move on him once, but dunking on Shaq is a rare feat. It’s so rare that Kobe had to wait unitl his back was turned during practice to get him. There are a few other examples floating around out there, but you won’t find enough for a top 10, maybe not even a top 5.

How has Shaq managed to avoid the plight that has befallen so many others? For one, he’s a pretty big guy (understatement). Shaq has tossed people around his whole career because he’s just flat out stronger than they are. For another, Shaq has a mean streak and a reputation for flattening would-be assailants as soon as they enter the lane. He’s Shaq. He dishes out the punishment, he doesn’t take it. That’s just the way it is.

Now that you’ve been educated, please pass this information along to NBA rookies Jonny Flynn and James Harden. These two lottery picks have talent to spare and should likely have fruitful careers with their respective teams. But someone needs to let these guys know that it’s OK to decline answering some questions. The media isn’t out to get them or anything, but they want interviewees to say something that they can refer to later to get viewers, readers and listeners excited. Something that might get them embarassed or hurt.

Something like saying they want to dunk on Shaq.

Flynn committed this error on the four-letter network (around the 4:03 on this video) and Harden while talking to someone from the NBA’s summer league coverage (around 1:30). Innocent questions asked and answers that weren’t even cocky or disrespectful. But is this honestly the tree these guys want to climb?

Shaq isn’t a bad answer, actually. His reputation precedes him as a player that doesn’t get dunked on and these guys used him as the most unlikely answer, kind of like kids saying that they want to be president when they grow up. Aim high, right? Shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll still probably stick one on Erick Dampier, Roy Hibbert or some other unbelievably tall and marginally talented player. Because you’re not going to get one on Mr. O’Neal, especially not after you’ve put him on alert.

Hasheem Thabeet, consider yourself warned.

[Photo courtesy of Keith Allison]