The constant discussions of how pivotal and essential elite point guards have become, along with Shaquille O’Neal’s recent freestyle rap, and the insults aimed at Kobe contained within, bring to mind something few other analysts, or even anyone in the media, have bothered pointing out: Shaq has needed an elite guard to help him win championships as much as Kobe has needed a big man—if not more so.
Back when Orlando drafted O’Neal as the first pick in’92, the decision was largely hailed as the correct call and O’Neal was predicted to become one of the greatest players of all time, a premonition which undoubtedly has come true. In his junior season at L.S.U., he averaged 24 points and 14 rebounds—stats that, given his size, would translate perfectly to the NBA. Indeed, in his rookie season with Orlando, he averaged nearly 24 points and 14 boards—substantial numbers by anyone’s measurements. But plenty of players record All-Star caliber stats on mediocre teams.
Then Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway entered the league and Shaq increased his point total per game to almost 30 and keeps dominating the middle. With another option, O’Neal no longer had every defender poised to double-team him with absolutely no consequence. They had Skiles to hit an open three and Hardaway to attack the basket, draw defenders, and pass out of it, usually for a lob to Shaq, who was freed with another superior player receiving close scrutiy, which explains his increased point total.
They reached the playoffs and lost in the first round, then next year, lost in the finals with a team built completely around Shaq and Penny. Shaq and Penny.
One could assume the team was assembled with Shaq as the centerpiece (no pun intended), but you cannot construct an entire team around one player and expect to win a championship, because one single player does not have the capability. Even Jordan had Pippen (and coincidentally, Scott Skiles, who also played with Shaq on the Finals-appearance-Orlando team).
Shaquille was then traded to Los Angeles, where he found Kobe Bryant and the Western Conference Semifinals, Finals, and Semifinals. The first two years in L.A., the Laker's main guard contribution was actually Eddie Jones, and not surprisingly, they failed to win a title—because O’Neal couldn’t make up for mediocre production of Jones and others . He couldn’t score all the points and play all the defense; another elite player needed to fill those roles, and no one had stepped up yet.
This is because, as according to basketball-reference.com, Bryant wasn’t one of the top contributors until the ’99 season, where the again lost in the Semifinals. Once Bryant truly began his rise to international stardom and continually displayed his incredible, even Jordan-esque, potential, and Phil Jackson took the ridiculously high-paying head coach position, the Lakers became the dominant force in the west.
Point being, Shaq couldn’t win without Kobe adding extremely valuable scoring and perimeter defense, and he couldn’t win without Phil adding the Zen-master triangle offense. No one can deny those two figures’ impact on O’Neal’s game.
Of course, two stars as big as Bryant and O’Neal, and two egos as big, and two heads as stubborn, the dynasty was destined for an unpleasant conclusion. By many accounts, Bryant demanded the split, but the details have evaporated into a foggy murk, and no one apart from Shaq and Bryant know the inner workings of the deal. Either way, after three championships with Bryant and Jackson, O’Neal took off for Miami.
There, he wasn’t quite the same unstoppable force everyone saw in L.A. He had become a heavier, slower version of his previous self, but still demanded both on-and-off-the-court attention. Dwyane “Flash” Wade, as Shaq coined him, began his rise to stardom with O’Neal on the side. Wade was the true star of the team—the Finals MVP and candidate for MVP of the regular season as well.
And that was Shaq’s last championship. He never won without a huge contributing guard on the team. To say “Kobe couldn’t do without me” and fail to recognize that he couldn’t do it without Penny, Dwyane, or Kobe is pure arrogance, ignorance, and denial. It was a joke, as rap battles are prone to generate, but I just got sick of the “Kobe has to prove that he can win without Shaq” talk without mentioning that O'Neal couldn’t do it without help, either.
Plus, while occasionally humorous, Shaq’s actually kind of a jackass.
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