Posted on: June 1, 2011 5:19 pm
Edited on: June 1, 2011 5:22 pm
MIAMI – With Shaquille O’Neal announcing his Big Sayonara on Wednesday, it was the perfect time to reminisce about the Big Fella’s impact. Nobody ever did it like Shaq, or will ever do it like Shaq again.
He was one of a kind, an original. He was the last of the dominant centers, the first to market himself across platforms – from sports, to hip-hop, to movies, to pop culture.
I thought back to my last great interview with O’Neal, last October when he was embarking on what would become a frustrating, unfulfilling, and ultimately failed one-year experiment in Boston. After failing to get a “ring for the King” in Cleveland, O’Neal had hoped to capture his fifth championship and the 18th for the Celtics by teaming with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo. In the end, father time came calling for Shaq and sent him exiting, stage left.
Before he goes, a detailed look at that last interview in New York – a particularly candid moment that harkened back to a time when Shaq’s game was as loud and penetrating as his voice and ideas:
• On the era of the dominant center: “I think I killed off all the centers, and now all the centers want to play the European-style basketball. There’s only one-and-a-half or two real centers left -- Dwight Howard and Yao Ming. Every now and then, Yao Ming steps outside and wants to shoot jumpers. But it’s gone more toward the European style. The days of the Patrick Ewings and Rik Smits and Kevin Duckworth and Robert Parish, those days are over, thanks to me.”
• On whether it will ever come back: “No. Never.”
• On his hip-hop career: “I was the one that did everything right and made it to the top and did it respectfully and kept it going. A lot of guys tried to come in, but I actually came in from the bottom, worked my way up with the crew and did this and did that. I was just a young kid coming from the projects of Newark, N.J., fulfilling one of his dreams.”
• About the opportunities basketball has given him: “The good thing about being a humble athlete and a humble guy is, you get to meet people and you get to shake people’s hands. We all know that we all come from the same place. For me growing up, on the way to the court I was mimicking LL Cool J, and once I got to the court I was Dr. J. So it was pretty much even. And I always stated that the thing that made me a great athlete is because I’m a great dancer. I have rhythm.”
• On any individual goals he had left: “If I did have an individual goal, it probably would be to pass Wilt Chamberlain in scoring. … Then I could feel complete with myself saying that I was the most dominant player if I had more championships and more points than him. But I don’t have any other individual goals that I’m going for. I’m just trying to get No. 5 this year.”
• On whether centers can still be difference-makers: “No, not shooting jumpers. … I’ve never lost a series to a guy shooting jumpers – besides Pau (Gasol), but Pau has a couple of extra weapons with him. There hasn’t been a center that has won shooting jumpers. Pau is 60-40 – 60 inside and 40 shooting jumpers. So I think the centers are getting a little more Pau Gasolish.”
• On whether that could change: “Dwight Howard plays like a true big man like we all played. … He’s actually in my eyes a true center. The game has changed, but to me he’s 95-5 – 95 inside and every now and then he’ll try to face up and shoot it off the glass. That’s how I like to see dominant big men play.”
• On his love of sports cars: “I’ve always loved sports cars. I had a couple of Ferraris and had a Lamborghini. But I was coming off the 395 one night trying to get to the beach – chillin, looking good, smelling good. I don’t know why, but I hit something and spun around and the only thing I was thinking about was hitting that ___ wall and going into the water. I closed my eyes and when I stopped a ___ truck was coming this way, so I had to get in my mode and put that ___ in reverse and do like some Bruce Willis ___ and I traded it in the next day. No, as a matter of fact, when I came to Phoenix, I sold it to Amar’e (Stoudemire). I was speeding and I was trying to get to a party and I don’t even know what happened. I was just thinking about hitting a wall and thinking about all the courses I took, like if the car hit the water, what the ___ you gotta do.”
• On being so critical of Howard in the past: “I wasn’t critical. It’s just that I know how to add fuel to the fire. But he does play like a true big man. I can’t say that he doesn’t play like a true big man. I was just saying last year that when I was his age, I didn’t have the luxury of calling a double to help me on Patrick Ewing. I would’ve loved to have help on ___ Pat Ewing and Rick Smits and all those guys, but I played them straight up. So if you want my respect, play straight up. That’s all I said.”
Posted on: October 22, 2010 6:40 pm
The NBA's labor talks have been big news in the days leading up to the tipoff of the 2010-11 season. Cutting player salaries by one-third ... contraction ... doomsday rhetoric from the commissioner to the union and right back at him. Oh, and by the way: the Heat play the Celtics Tuesday.
All of this affects some 400 players, 30 billionaires, and you ... the fan. But it affects one player perhaps more than any other: Carmelo Anthony.
The Nuggets star is days away from starting the season with a team he no longer wants to play for, and that's his own choice. But the dilemma is this: If Anthony can't compel Denver to trade him to a team of his liking, he has to be prepared to stare $65 million in the face and say, "No, thanks."
Or does he?
That is one of the unspoken uncertainties inherent in the NBA's labor fight. If the league insists on imposing a hard salary-cap, and if it follows the NHL model of rolling back existing contracts to make them fit the new system, Anthony's three-year, $65 million extension offer from Denver is a mirage.
An NHL-style rollback would result in Anthony's extension (if he signed it) and every other existing deal in the league being reduced to fit the new model.
Maybe that is why a person familiar with Anthony's strategy told me that Melo is fully prepared to spend the entire season in Denver without signing an extension and then take his chances under the new deal.
"Carmelo is not afraid to go into next year and test the CBA," the person said.
That seems like a bold statement, but in a way, maybe it isn't. What would be the point of begrudgingly accepting an extension with a team he doesn't want to play for just to get the money under the current deal when the new deal may very well wipe it out anyway with a rollback?
My former Newsday colleague, Alan Hahn, covered the 2004-05 NHL lockout and has been all over this angle as it applies to the NBA labor talks.
Several sources involved in the Anthony trade discussions continued to maintain Friday that the Nuggets will likely decide to move him after Dec. 15, when numerous players become trade-eligible -- thus widening the field of assets at Denver's disposal. But no team is going to take Anthony on a rental basis. More to the point: If Anthony believes there's a chance he'll have to accept a pay cut anyway under a hard-cap system with rollbacks, why not wait it out and sign with the team he really wants to play for, the Knicks?
It's a risk, sure. It's a lot of money to leave on the table -- or maybe it isn't, depending on how determined owners are to slash player expenditures. And based on commissioner David Stern's statement Thursday that owners want to take a $750 million to $800 million bite out of payroll -- a one-third reduction -- they seem sort of serious.
Stern was asked Friday for the second consecutive day about all things labor, this time on his preseason tipoff conference call with NBA media -- which typically is a chance for the former deli worker-turned-sports titan to spread his unique brand of sunshine on the masses. One of the more interesting questions was about Anthony and other stars trying to force their way to other teams, and whether that's good or bad for the sport.
Stern said it didn't bother him "in the least," so at least he's consistent. In the months leading up to the free-agent summer of 2010, Stern applauded the free-agent rights players had negotiated in the CBA while pointing out that the system was built to give the home team an advantage by paying more money.
Well, the system didn't work in the case of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, who took less money than their existing teams were offering to team up with Dwyane Wade in Miami. That was their right. And the home-team advantage won't exist in the hard-cap world Stern's owners are trying to create. A hard cap will only lead to more player movement; just look at the NHL, where Stanley Cup champions are routinely blown up soon after the victory parade.
"The players have no obligation to sign a contract," Stern said Friday. "And I remember these guys -- what were their names? -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who actually asked to be traded; Patrick Ewing, who asked to be traded. Here we have a player who's keeping his options open. That's his right under the collective bargaining agreement, and I don't think it's fair to hold him to a higher standard."
I agree. I never had a problem with LeBron leaving Cleveland; it was the way he did it that bothered me. I have no problem whatsoever with Anthony deciding to bring his talents somewhere else. If there's a risk involved in that strategy, that's on him.
Stern embraced one concept Friday that may help in this regard, and it's one that I suggested here back in July : an NFL-style franchise tag.
"I think that the franchise player is an interesting concept," Stern said. "I think it's going to come up in our collective bargaining."
A franchise tag would build in protections for teams hoping to keep their stars under a hard cap. The players' union opposes all of it -- the hard cap because it would limit salaries, and a franchise tag because it would limit player movement. For the time being, we're stuck with a system that both sides enthusiastically agreed to only five years ago -- and one that has Anthony, one of the game's biggest stars, stuck in a self-imposed limbo.
Posted on: March 5, 2009 11:43 am
Shaq isn't going quietly.
Good for him.
Better for us.
You must understand something. I've been doing this sports writing thing for some time now, and rants like this come around once in a lifetime.
This is what we call an all-timer.
I stand in awe of Shaq's eternal gifts. This must be recorded for posterity, which is why I will set it up and give you the full transcript (minus the expletives), courtesy of the Arizona Republic, a fine news organization which also recognized the historic nature of Shaq's performance. This was Paul Bunyan picking up and ax and cutting down every tree in sight. With one mighty swing, Shaq chopped down Stan Van Gundy, his brother Jeff, Dwight Howard, AND Patrick Ewing.
I'm not worthy.
Here we go: After O'Neal fell down in an attempt to draw a charge from Howard Tuesday night, Stan Van Gundy pulled a wrinkled Coaching 101 handbook from his back pocket and said: “I was shocked, seriously, shocked. And very disappointed, because he knows what it’s like. Let's stand up and play like men, and I think our guy did that tonight.”
Nice try, Stan.
Before the Suns played the Heat in Miami Wednesday night -- Shaq's first return since he was traded to the desert 13 months ago -- he was asked if he had any reaction to Van Gundy's comments. Never has a soft ball been tossed so perfectly.
Shaq's response, as reported by Paul Coro of the Republic:
"(Howard) came with the same old, stale Patrick Ewing move, so I tried to stand there and take the charge. The new rules say if you come through, you fall. But as I fell, I realized that it was a flop and it reminded me of Coach Van Gundy’s whole coaching career. The one thing I despise is a frontrunner. First of all, none of his players like him. When it gets tough, he will become the master of panic like he did before and he will quit like he did before. The one thing I despise is frontrunners. Yeah, he’s got a young team playing good, but don’t be a frontrunner. Him and his brother and even the legend on the bench ain’t done what I’ve done in my whole career. So flopping would be the wrong choice of words.
"I just tried to take a charge. The ___ rules say you can’t stand there and get hit. You’ve got to fall. The ____ got the same old stinking move that Patrick Ewing has been doing his whole career. I went down, got up and didn’t complain. I see him and Stan complaining the whole game because they’ve got to. Remember, I’ve done more than him, his brother, and Patrick Ewing.
"Stan Van Gundy reminds me of a broke navigational system. He knows everything about everything but ain’t never been nowhere. Think about that. If I’m right here and I type in the address of where you’re going, I know where it’s at but I’m not going there.
"When a bum says some ___ about it and I respond, you can ___ cancel that because I know how he is in real life. We’ll see when the playoffs start and he ___ panics and quits like he did when he was here (in Miami). And you ___ print it just like that. Do I look soft to you like you can say something and I’m not going to say something?
"Notice they didn’t play me straight up. We’ll see how far they go because I know Stan. I said this a long time ago, but I was actually talking about him: 'When the general panics, the troops will panic.' Like in business, when the head panics and takes out all his stock, what happens?
"All the players hate him. The players don’t even like him. I hate frontrunners. I really do. I don’t like any frontrunners. There’s a pecking order involved. I’ve been there six times.
"I ain’t going to let no bum like him rip me and not say anything back. You can cancel that ___ all the way. Usually, I let ___ go. Not that. Not him. Hell no.
"The rules say when a guy goes through your chest you’ve got to fall to get the call. It was a flop. You’ve watched me play for 17 years. I don’t play like that.
"I’m not going to sit around and let nobodies take a shot at me and he is a nobody to me. And if he thinks he can get in a little press conference and take shots at me like I’m not going to (say) something back, he’s got another thing coming."
Ladies and gentlemen, Shaquille O'Neal. Enjoy him while he's still here.
The Shaq farewell tour has kicked it up a notch. When the Suns visited the Knicks in January, I asked Shaq if Howard was the closest thing he's seen to the Next Shaq. "No," he said ."He's a good player, but everything he's done, I've invented. So I'm not impressed."
Then came the clowning around at All-Star weekend, the pre-game dance ritual, the reflective comments -- Shaq soaking it all in, recognizing this was probably his final All-Star Game.
Since the All-Star break, he's averaging 22.1 points and 8.4 rebounds in a single-handed attempt to raise the Suns from the dead. He might just do it. After Shaq led the Suns to a victory over Kobe Bryant's Lakers on Sunday with 33 points and seven rebounds, he said, "It's what I do. I've been doing this since 1992. If you don't believe it, Google me."
Shaq turns 37 Friday. Happy birthday, big fella. Glad you're still here.