Shaquille O'Neal might never have played long enough to win four championships and get elected to the Hall of Fame were it not for a Glaswegian trainer named Alex McKechnie.
In the 1997 preseason, Shaq experienced a sensation where his abs felt like they were "ripped in half, hanging together by one little thread" (per David Ebner of The Globe and Mail).
Luckily, they found it in McKechnie's core-training techniques up in Vancouver, and Phil is eternally grateful.
Apparently, Jackson—who recently joined Twitter—was listening to John Ireland's radio show with Steve Mason on L.A.'s KSPN. Ireland, who also works as the Lakers' radio play-by-play announcer, referred to the integral role McKechnie played for the team over 15 years ago, prompting a tweet from the former Lakers coach.
Conversation about @lakers plethora of injuries by John Ireland on radio.He hit the part about Alex McKechnie coming to ‘fix’ Shaq in 98'— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) April 26, 2013
McKechnie's unorthodox exercises involved crooked platforms and intricate systems of rubber bands, but his rehab techniques were singular and revolutionary (per Ebner). Nowadays, core training gets utilized by both athletes and business executives who eschew a desk chair for an exercise ball (see Kyle MacLachlan as the mayor in Portlandia).
McKechnie aided O'Neal with his abdominal aches, and Shaq consequently averaged 28.3 points and 11.4 rebounds a night over 60 games in 1997-98. Having demonstrated his effectiveness, O'Neal trained with McKechnie for the next two offseasons.
Shaq increased his averages to 29.7 points and 13.6 boards per game in the 1999-00 season, which was coincidentally the first year of a Lakers' three-peat.
Of course, copious credit goes to Jackson and Kobe Bryant, but modern Lakers' history could have been radically different without McKechnie and his work with Shaq Daddy.
The Zen Master spoke (that is, tweeted) to the importance of conditioning, rehab and the basic necessity of keeping players on the court.
Butt, no one asked happened to Alex? He’s with Toronto btw and sorely missed. A guy that can keep players on the floor.— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) April 26, 2013
In the summer of 2011, the Lakers chose not to renew McKechnie's contract as their athletic performance coordinator. The Toronto Raptors swooped in to hire him as their "Director of Sports Science" (per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times).
With Kobe's aging legs having finally betrayed him, Steve Nash hampered by a balky hamstring, Pau Gasol slowed by plantar fasciitis and Dwight Howard managing an injured labrum all season, it seem like the Lakers could really use someone like McKechnie right about now.
His patented techniques (like the "Core-X rehab system") continue to help numerous players, including non-Raptors like ex-Laker Lamar Odom.
Odom has enjoyed something of a renaissance this season with the L.A. Clippers after a dreadful stint with the Dallas Mavericks (7.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes this year).
The method employed by McKechnie is scientific in every way. Jay Satur of Raptors.com spoke with him about the process behind managing a training staff and player rehab:
The idea is to oversee the rehabilitation of our players along with the strength and conditioning components. We will establish solid baselines in terms of fitness, posture, movement and reactive training, which offer us a reference point that we can review throughout the course of the season. We can reference these statistics during the course of injury rehab and we can ascertain improvements or deficiencies throughout the course of the year. So the whole idea is to oversee all of that and establish a good solid foundation for training, for rehabilitation and for prevention.
Fans rarely get a glimpse into the technology of training and calibration of player performance. McKechnie is not only one of the pioneers in the field, he remains a constant contributor in his role with the Raptors.
These guys are so thorough, they even track posture.
Props from the Zen Master is high praise indeed, but the Lakers franchise is eternally indebted to McKechnie for transforming Shaq into Shaq Diesel and adding a few more rings to Jackson's hands.
If only they had kept McKechnie around, perhaps they wouldn't be limping along behind the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Come to think of it, they could really use Phil back too.