Remember in 1992 when no one knew what Shaq had to offer. He was an LSU junior and yet he was still a no-brainer as the top draft pick of the NBA. At the age of 20, Shaquille O’Neal had all the makings of a superstar of the game and had the potential to be the greatest of all time. However, nothing was for certain and he needed to put in the work to get where he got. Even though so much was anticipated when he entered the NBA, he seemed to deliver even more.
Here we present the top reasons why we must consider O’Neal the best player to ever grace the NBA.
The sheer depth of skill
So, you think that Shaq was a great player because he was over 7 foot tall with a heavy frame. Seriously, if this is all it took, then there are a host of super-tall-men who have missed their life’s work. The reason for his success was in spite of his size. He could easily have been a cumbersome beast with no grace. Instead, he could spin and twist and handle that ball in ways that made his opponents’ heads explode. His jump shots were against the laws of physics and he was able to pick whatever player he wanted with a no-look pass.
Although Shaq became a giant of the game in more ways than one, you should not forget the skillset that this man brought to the game. He has so many tools in his toolbox that in many ways defied his size. His timing to block shots, his desire to get at the rebounds, his accuracy to make that shot.
His career record
He is in the all-time top five for his points scored (28,000 points), all-time shots blocked (2700 shots) and top 12th for rebounds (13000). He has a postseason career average that puts him in the top five for all these measures. He has four NBA championships, three finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP, three All-Star Game MVPs, Olympic Gold Medal and a World Championship Gold Medal. Is your mind blown? It should be.
The golden touch
But what about Michael Jordan? You ask, rightly. Well, Jordan’s greatness seems to emerge mostly out of the marketing machine that keeps the Michael Jordan myth travelling through the ages. You can go to 200 countries across the globe and they will know he is a basketball player. His celebrity will always overshadow Shaq’s.
However – and this is huge – Shaq did more. He is a businessman, he made music, made movies and TV shows, released his own line of clothes and his own music label. He is skilled at celebrity and fame and making his mark on the world.
He played against and beat the best
You are only as good as your rivals. Therefore, you may have an astonishing career record but if you are one of a handful of talented players in the league, then your lustre is dimmed by the lack of competition. Take Dwight Howard – there is no one out there challenging him to make him a better centre – and it will likely keep him off the all-time team sheets.
Shaquille O’Neal didn’t suffer the same drought of talent. In his career, he faced a host of greats who could have challenged him for the best player on the court. The likes of Olajuwon, Robinson, Ewing, Mutombo, Daughterty, Wallace, Ming, Smits – and so many more. Not only did he play against them but he beat them all too.
He developed the game of others
Great players play and lead. Take a look at LeBron James – his talent is unquestioned but his all-time greatness will be defined by his interest in making his teammates better and see the game as he does. Shaq is the same. You could argue that Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade became much better players because they played alongside Shaq. Other Hall of Fame inductees also improved with their contact with Shaq, such as Payton, Rice and Richmond.
Shaq influenced the ways coaches coached and referees called games. He rejuvenated the Lakers and gave them legitimacy in the NBA once more.
He evolved his game
If you stand still in basketball, you will fall behind. You cannot bank on the quality of your talent seeing you through a career. If you watch a game from about 30 years ago, you will be shocked at how much better players are today. Therefore, while Shaq had potential and skill at the start of his career, he needed to continue to learn and develop to stay relevant. He understood he had to evolve with age and with the developments in the game – and he never stopped learning how to be successful. This, above all else, allows him to be the best in the world. It is likely there will be another center that comes along that over-shadows Shaq’s achievements- but this is the natural evolution of the game.