Phil Jackson may not be figuring out lineups and rotations for an NBA team these days, but he apparently still has the desire to do a little talent evaluation—this time involving Shaquille O'Neal and Wilt Chamberlain—now that he's not busy.
At a "Live Talks Los Angeles" event on June 12, the Zen Master had a few things to say about the great center he once played against as well as the one he coached with the Los Angeles Lakers.
According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, Jackson's most definitive comparisons focused on two areas where the big men differed most:
"Shaquille didn't have quite the same athleticism that Wilt had. He had the bounce and he had the speed, but he didn't have the endurance."
Well, it's hard to argue with Jackson there. Chamberlain once averaged more than 48 minutes per game, totaling 48.5 during the 1961-62 season. O'Neal, on the other hand, constantly had to play his way into shape with the Lakers (and throughout the later stages of his career), often struggling with his weight.
At the same time, it's impossible to ignore the changes in the league over the nearly 40-year gap between the two big men's primes. Chamberlain played against relatively unsophisticated defenses and vastly inferior athletes. He virtually never ran up against anyone remotely near his own size.
In contrast, O'Neal played in an era with smarter defenses and much more size.
That's not to take anything away from Chamberlain's achievements, which were incredible—particularly in the 1961-62 season to which Jackson referred. I mean, the Dipper led the league in a boatload of categories that year. But notably, he didn't win the MVP.
Jackson also praised O'Neal's superior offensive repertoire, saying: "[O'Neal] had a jump hook whereas Wilt didn't have a jump hook, he had an array of shots, he had a hook, a finger roll and a turnaround jump shot."
Looking back at highlights, it is rather striking how Chamberlain seems to score so effortlessly despite having such a limited arsenal. Basically, the big man backed his way inside, turned and simply jumped over defenders for finishes that were rarely contested.
Finally, Jackson noted one oft-mentioned similarity: "Free-throw shooting? [Issues] on both sides. Even then, at that time, you fouled Wilt if he was underneath the lane."
And one thing Jackson didn't mention: O'Neal owns four championship rings to Chamberlain's two.
Which big man was better?
The Zen Master stopped short of declaring one player superior to the other, but that's what message board debates are for anyway, right?