Mike Tyson used to proclaim the following: "I'm the baddest man on the planet!"
From the looks of his early boxing record, it appeared he was quite correct with his self-indulged assessment.
Personally, I never bought in to the hype of Tyson simply because he was an unfortunate victim of a lackluster heavyweight division during his reign of terror.
Let's face it, the opponents that Tyson destroyed on his way to the title were "no-named bums" that you probably couldn't remember if someone offered a million dollars for you to do so.
Also, the ex contenders he fought with recognizable names, i.e. Larry Holmes (and others) were all well past their prime when they fought Tyson.
That being said, Mike Tyson will undoubtedly go down in history as a dominant force during an era associated with pitiful heavyweight talent.
This leads me to Shaquille O'Neal.
If you listen to Shaq, then you would think that he has proclaimed himself as the most dominant center of all time.
Throughout his career, he has outwardly stated that no center in the league could stop him. In addition, sportswriters and commentators have marveled over his sheer dominance in the paint during his tenure in the league.
The problem with these assessments is that they mirror the aforementioned assessment of Mike Tyson's career.
In the past, centers such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone, Dan Issel, Bill Walton, Tree Rollins, and many more guarded the paint as if their lives depended upon it each game.
These were big and physical centers that also brought a variety of skill to the game.
In addition, Patrick Ewing brought a defensive prowess to the game; along with a good mid-range jumper. Hakeem Olajuwon brought defense; along with footwork that has been unmatched by any center in the history of the NBA. David Robinson was simply a specimen that took the best of defensive and offensive skills and put them in to one package.
The problem with Shaquille O'Neal is that he has played virtually his entire career in a league that has seen the demise of the "true NBA Center!"
Sure...when he first entered the league, he played against Ewing, Robinson and Olajuwon, however, they were on the down-turn of their careers.
The NBA (as we know it during Shaq's tenure) has been nothing more than a league that has power forwards playing center.
Let's face it, as good as they are, Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire and others of their ilk have been placed in the center position throughout their careers. However, we know that these guys are power forwards and these are the types of players that are (no pun intended) at the center of Shaq's dominance.
Shaq would have never over-powered Wilt or Artis in the paint. In his prime, Olajuwon's footwork would have caused Shaq to foul out of the game in one quarter. Finally, the offensive prowess of Kareem or David Robinson in their prime would have befuddled Shaq!
Now, I am not stating that Shaq isn't a dominant force in the paint because we all know that he is indeed a force. However, I do believe that his legend has grown at the expense of playing against power forwards almost his entire career.
Would he have been dominant if he would have played against the aforementioned centers? We will never know, however, the one thing that we do know is that he wouldn't have been as dominant.
Therefore, if I had to rate the centers that I would pick first to start an NBA team, then Shaq would not make my first cut.
Here would be my list:
1. Wilt Chamberlain: Sheer dominance.
2. Hakeem Olajuwon: Could make any center look silly in the paint.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: All-around skill at the position...probably the best.
4. David Robinson: Freakish talent and agility for a seven-footer.
5. Shaquille O'Neal: Dominant in the paint.
There you are folks. That is my list of the top centers with whom I would start an NBA team.
Like Mike Tyson...Shaquille O'Neal is simply an unfortunate victim of a lackluster center position during his reign of terror.