It's official. Shaquille O'Neal won't play in the 2008 All-Star Game.
He's missed the NBA's February showcase before, but never because both fans and coaches didn't feel he wasn't worthy of attending. This year, that's changed.
Fans and coaches are right.
|It's a shame Shaq will have to take in the All-Star Game in street clothes. (AP)|
"Shaq sort of is the All-Star Game, sort of what the All-Star Game is all about," said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy. "It's celebrity and the people the fans want to see and everything else. You know, we had Magic Johnson in the All-Star Game when he wasn't even playing, so it'd be hard for anybody to argue if Shaq were in there."
All day Thursday, I wondered what my reaction would be if O'Neal did pick up enough votes to make it. Would I be offended? Could it be bad if, as a fan and follower of the game, one of it's greatest showmen was included instead of someone more worthy? I asked Keyon Dooling, a former teammate, that same question on Wednesday night. He refused to answer, adding that what he thought was irrelevant. Dooling is a great guy, probably will wind up coaching in this league and will be a great ambassador in his own right. However, he got it wrong on this one.
I did, too. I continue to.
If Jason Kidd gets moved out to the Western Conference or someone else goes down to the Eastern Conference team, my pecking order of replacements starts with Boston's Ray Allen, followed by the Magic's Hedo Turkoglu and New Jersey's Richard Jefferson. That's who is most worthy.
At the same time, would it have bothered me if coaches would've thrown conventional wisdom to the wind and given O'Neal a pass?
Maybe it's because they didn't, but I honestly feel that answer is no.
"He's the most dominant big man in the league and has been for years, so I think he's an All-Star no matter if he's backing up Dwight (Howard) if or whoever it is," Heat forward Dorell Wright said Wednesday night. "He should still be an All-Star because of the work he's put in and the things he's still doing. It's a respect thing. He should be there."
Given some time to reflect, I have to say I agree. It's OK to be conflicted on this one, because while it's always nice to see someone who truly deserves to be there make it -- like Washington's Antawn Jamison -- it's equally enjoyable to see a living legend lauded. Like Van Gundy pointed out, special accommodations were made for Johnson in his situation. Although medical implications made that unique in its own right, not having O'Neal around to wave to the crowd and do something silly at an All-Star Game makes me ill. The best big man of his generation has outworn his usefulness?
It makes my stomach hurt. All I can do is cling to my initial reason for leaving him off my personal list -- he's too proud to covet a sympathy vote and too special not to use it as motivation to make one final run at making this event next season.
The Western Conference coaches definitely did a better job at choosing reserves than their East counterparts, agreeing with me on all counts except on Marcus Camby -- the player who ranks No. 1 in the NBA in blocked shots and second in rebounds. Anyone who didn't vote for him should consider himself a hypocrite the next time he tries to preach what it is that wins basketball games. That being said, the player who wound up taking his spot, New Orleans' David West, can't be met with too much animosity. He's been a rock all season, unheralded his entire career and should reap the benefits of being one of the focal points of the team that has come out of nowhere to climb into the limelight in the league's toughest division. Considering New Orleans is hosting the event, there's nothing wrong with West being on board alongside Chris Paul and Byron Scott, who will likely wind up the head coach.
Eastern Conference coaches went for the same option I took, making Toronto power forward Chris Bosh a center in order to add candidates who were more worthy than Detroit's Rasheed Wallace or Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
The only invitation we disagreed on was on Atlanta's Joe Johnson, who got in ahead of Boston's Allen. Johnson, making his second consecutive appearance, hasn't even had the best season on his team. That honor has to go to versatile forward Josh Smith. He's shooting less than 41 percent on a squad that is well under .500 and is looking to simply make the playoffs despite the fact that there's more talent on board than many of the teams they're lumped in with.
Allen has helped change the culture of the entire conference, pitching in considerably to make Boston basketball relevant again. That should've been rewarded.
Same goes for O'Neal's career contributions. His exclusion should leave basketball fans torn in every sense of the word.