The Sports Debates has been a forum for many things, and the writers, over the year and a half we’ve been running this website, have earned reputations for specific pet peeves within the world of sports. I have written about several pet peeves, as has Bleacher Fan. Today’s debate is an outgrowth of that. A Bleacher Fan pet peeve is athletes that hang on too long. A Sports Geek pet peeve? Shaquille O’Neal. Let’s kill two birds with one stone.
It is no secret that I do not like Shaquille O’Neal as a player. I felt he was a terrible fit for the Phoenix Suns and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Before those years, I never enjoyed his style of play. I never believed – and never will believe – that Shaq is a great basketball player, or that he was at any stage of his career. What Shaq was, and still is, is large. He is bigger than any other player, and he used his size to his advantage to dominate the opposition inside the paint. Sure, his career stats are tremendous. But there are several traits that are great basketball player needs to ensure that moniker is earned and not just awarded by the lazy media. The traits include, the ability to reliably hit a jump shot from any range, solid free throw shooting, good lateral movement, etc. there are more, but those are some basics… some basics that Shaq just does not have. Especially now.
Shaq is big. He has always been big. While his size hasn’t diminished, his strength, intensity, and quickness have. Because he was never a great basketball player, he is not well equipped to continue being an effective player in the twilight of his career. The first signs of decline became apparent when consistency became elusive. Last season Shaq was a different player game to game. One game he would show good effort, the next he would be completely overmatched by a smaller player.
Statistics never tell the whole story. But they do at times give important context, especially when writing to convince you all that of all athletes currently playing sports, Shaq is the one that needs to hang up the oversized shoes the fastest. Consider the under 50 percent free throw shooting last season, which was actually lower than normal (if you can believe it). We always knew he wasn’t a good shooter. How about rebounding, since he is still big? Surely there was no significant reduction in rebounding. Except that Shaq grabbed fewer offensive rebounds last season than he ever has in his entire career – even in seasons where injuries dramatically reduced playing to less than half the games in a season. Shaq rebounded just 93 times on offense last season, and only 262 on defense. Neither number is impressive at all.
Even if stats aren’t a big factor, often a player can take other less obvious actions to spur his team to victory. While Shaq may have been helpful in that regard early in his career, that is no longer the case, as evidenced by his terrible performance in the playoffs last season for the Cavaliers, when clutch was most in need since the team’s star didn’t have his head in the game. Shaq was not quick enough to set screens, to rotate on defense, or to get out of the way of a driving player and avoid a dumb foul. The details that win championships are no longer elements of Shaq’s game that can be considered reliable.
As a person, Shaq has always blurred the lines between entertainer and athlete. He has some movies to his credit (ugh) and even his own program on network television called Shaq Vs. But, Shaq went far enough to admit that he is now fabricating controversy and feuds in the hopes to increase ticket sales. This is an example of a last gasp by an over the hill athlete. The game is no longer enough to keep his attention, focus, and enthusiasm.
With this debate is it easy to simply assume the right player to argue for is obvious in their declining skills, a guy like Brett Favre, for example. But Shaq is now an under the radar type player with an over the radar personality. It’s time for everyone to realize he is a shell of the player he was, and that it’s time to retire to Hollywood.