I have a new template for this site (my third re-design in 48 hours!) and a new name. It's not much, but I suck at templates, so for me it's big.
I will explain the new name later, after sleep. I'm not sure how I'm still even alive, let alone awake.
In case you're curious, I redid four of my templates in the last week - After Dark Tales, Movie Hype, Hyperion Chronicles, and this one. (I'm too tired and can't see well enough to link them in this post, but they are all at the top of the page.)
Ok, sleep, then explanation, I hope
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Thursday, June 02, 2011
When I first heard that Shaquille O'Neal was retiring my knee-jerk reaction was, "He's in the Top Ten of all time, for sure."
The problem is that we tend to think qualitatively without fully integrating quantitative factors. I can vividly remember being in college and M*A*S*H was on every night at 11:30 and 12:00. If my friend Jason Apple missed an episode he would ask me where it ranked and I would always say "Top Five." I wasn't being flippant; when I saw the episode that was my first reaction. Of course, at some point it dawned on me, "Wait, these can't ALL be Top Five episodes!"
And this is the problem with Shaq, one of my favorite players to watch (in his prime) ever, partly because I played the same position, partly because Shaq came of age when I played in high school and sports therefore meant the most to me, partly because of his generosity off the court and partly because of his larger-than-life personality and style.
But can Shaq really be Top Ten all time? I want to believe, but it's a hard case to make.
[The following is a quick-take analysis, not meant to be comprehensive, and drawing upon the assumption that the reader is very familiar with the people, careers and eras to which I refer. Other people have written entire articles and books ranking players with more data and scope; I'm just giving quick short-hand on the problem of ranking things by "feel".]
If we look at the list of Greatest Players of all time, and limit ourselves to those no longer playing, just about everyone would have the following eight people in some order. (I'm using alphabetical, so as to not get bogged down on how this group should be divided, which is a separate argument we can have another time):
Bird, Chamberlain, Jordan, Kareem, Magic, Robertson, Russell, West
As great as Shaq was, it's hard to imagine a knowledgeable person putting him ahead of any of those immortals. But here's where it gets tough. There are three more names of retired players that go into the discussion:
Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Mikan
Mikan is by far the hardest to grade. By any fair definition, the Mount Rushmore of Greatest NBA centers would have Mikan, Russell, Chamberlain and Kareem, leaving Shaq off entirely. Yet Shaq was a better player, which seems contradictory, but I don't know how to put it any better. (The short answer is that we are supposed to judge players in their era, and Mikan was as dominant in his as anyone in any sport EVER, yet his game is so untranslatable today that it's hard to imagine him playing for a Division 1 college team. You think the Refs has different rules for how they called fouls for and against Shaq? They invented the Shot Clock to stop Mikan.)
Mikan's case is so troubling I don't even know what to do with it, but that's just the beginning. We still have Olajuwon and Malone. (By the way, it irks me that I had to put Moses Malone, but I knew if I didn't some moron would think I meant Karl Malone. Sigh.)
I'm willing to say Shaq is definitively better than Malone, and while I'm willing to discuss, that's pretty much settled in my head. But that means (if we're counting Mikan), Shaq woudl be #10, and that's only if you rank him ahead of Olajuwon. No one who knows the game of basketball can be comfortable just saying that one way or the other. You might have a view on it, but you'd at least want to think it over. Shaq was more dominant, Olajuwon was more skilled. Shaq won four titles to Hakeem's two (and those two came during Jordan's hiatus), but one of Olajuwon's titles came against Shaq's Magic, and even though Shaq was still very young then, it's at least a head-to-head.
But even then we have another HUGE problem.
There are two players playing today that most likely have to go ahead of Shaq, or at least when they retire they will - Duncan and Kobe. Duncan played in the same era as Shaq, but much like Olajuwon it's hard to say one way or another. Both won four rings. Duncan was more consistent and (arguably) a better teammate; Shaq was more dominant and at his apex better. It's a tough call.
But that leaves Kobe, and, as much as it pains me to write these words, the last few years (not to mention the reasonable expectation that he has a couple of good to near-great years left) have moved Kobe past Shaq. I hate writing that. You can't know how much I hate writing that. At one point a few years ago I felt that the argument was absurd, but I gotta be honest, even if I don't like it.
To sum up, even if we ignore the historically vexing case of George Mikan, and even if we just declare Shaq better than Duncan and Olajuwon (which I'm not willing to do, and again - how could anyone feel comfortable being definitive about it), the highest we could possibly rank Shaq would be #10, and we wouldn't be able to sleep knowing we had cheated to do so. And even if we could somehow talk ourselves into Mikan not mattering and the Olajuwon/Duncan hit-jobs, we still couldn't rest easy, because of what's coming.
No one can know what the future holds, but if we look at the NBA today we at least get sort of an idea of what's on the horizon. Will Durant one day be an all-time great? Maybe Chris Paul? Maybe Nowitzki if he keeps up this pace for a year or two, and maybe the Chicago Deez Boyz - D Rose or D Wade....all possibilities, but not likely to pass Shaq on the All-time list.
But, c'mon. We all know (or suspect, or cringe; however you feel about him) that it's only a matter of time, a couple of pieces of hardware, until another name goes right past Shaq and crashes that Hallowed Top 8, scrapping with Kobe over entrance to the Top 5 and even beyond.
All of which leaves poor Shaq out of the Top 10. He'll probably be okay with that. After all, he can rap. He can wrestle, and if there's not a badass action franchise out there for him I'll eat my hat. Shaq will find his way, and we'll soon tell him how his third act tastes.....
I miss him already.
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