Sunday, February 5, 2006

I’d rather have Kobe for a teammate than Shaq

Filed under: Basketball,NBA — Tom Pittman @ 6:19 pm

I don’t know if we are all too young to remember or too old to have reliable memories, but before Kobe was the player we all loved to hate, there was another young player who scored most of his team’s points, didn’t get along with his all-star teammate, dismantled a championship-caliber team, and got his coach dismissed in the process: Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq and Kobe

Shaq didn’t get along with Penny Hardaway in Orlando then went to Los Angeles to not get along with Kobe Bryant. (Can you say, “Common Denominator?”) In so doing, Shaq ditched a team that had just won their division twice in a row, been to the Eastern Conference Finals twice in a row, and had been to the NBA Finals. Why? According to Shaq himself, he bolted for Hollywood to help his rap and movie career. (Can you say, “Ron Artest?”) Soon after, coach Brian Hill was let go and the Magic have never been the same since.

But look at the bright side, Orlando Magic fans: you may have lost a championship contending team for the next 12 years at least, but at you’ll have “Kazaam” and “Blue Chips” on DVD forever.

When Shaq joined the league, he seemed more into breaking backboards than anything else. He was definitely more about fun than winning. We all were grateful when he “developed” a jump hook from six feet out. When you add that to his other move: bump the defender out of the way with your massive body and dunk, his two-dimensional offensive repertoire was enough to make him unstoppable, so he stopped developing new shots. That’s too bad; I’ve coached many 14 year old kids that shoot free throws better than this “professional” basketball player.

Because of Shaq’s unwillingness to work on his game and grow as a player, you can’t even have him in the game at crunch time ’cause “Hack a Shaq” is so effective it is a league wide strategy in close games. A superstar you can’t count on in close games?! Contrast that to Kobe Bryant at the end of close games. Kobe is the one guy you most want in the game and with the ball in the closing moments when the game is on the line.

I admired Shaq a great deal for deferring to Phil Jackson when Jackson took over the Lakers, but I credit Shaq’s momentary maturity to Phil’s ability to get egomaniacs to play together. I say momentary maturity because it took Pat Riley and Bill Russell double teaming Shaq to get him to set aside his animosity (publicly at least) with Kobe. Again, many 14 year olds know better and you would hope a professional would act, well, professionally.

That’s not to say that Kobe doesn’t have his downside, but it’s not like this site needs more “ink” exposing Kobe’s faults. It is done ad nauseam.

By the way, I don’t buy the “Kobe dismantled the Lakers” hype anyway. Of the two superstars, Shaq has lost more than most people care to admit (especially Shaq), and Kobe had yet to peak. Re-signing Kobe was the right first priority for the Lakers at that time; it’s a shame Shaq wasn’t mature enough to defer to Kobe as Kobe did to Shaq when Shaq was at the top of his game.

But even if it was true that Kobe dismantled the Lakers, at least Kobe stuck around to deal with the fallout. Shaq left plenty of scorched earth in Orlando and left for Hollywood. Then Shaq ran again for greener pastures when the going got tough in Los Angeles.

Shaq is a big kid, and like most kids, he doesn’t want to work and he wants things HIS way. Even now, you get the sense that Shaq rather lose games than lose weight.


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