Five or six years ago, that headline would have made less sense than two (by all accounts sane) parents allowing their 16-year old daughter to circumnavigate the globe by her lonesome.
Then again, five or six years ago Shaquille O'Neal was still posting double-doubles with regularity, playing thirty-plus minutes per game, and putting his fingerprints all over the postseason.
Today, the Big Aristotle is 38-years old and well on his way to becoming the Big Antique.
O'Neal is coming off a campaign in which he averaged a career-low in points (12), rebounds (6.7), blocks (1.2) and minutes (23.4). His preseason pledge to bring the king a ring—or whatever his catchy rhyme entailed—proved that, at this point, Shaq is better off running for political office than running his preposterous mouth.
If O'Neal retired right now, the question that would hover over his hellacious NBA career would not necessarily be: "Where does Shaq rank among the greatest big men of all-time?"
Rather, we should be wondering: "Why didn't he win more than four titles while playing with the likes of Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash and LeBron James during his 18-year tenure?"
Moreover, how can Shaq be considered one of the greatest big men of all-time when he may not even be the greatest big man of his generation?
After all, Tim Duncan has the same number of titles and Finals MVP awards, plus one more regular-season MVP and All-NBA First-Team selection. To add an epic oil spill to a struggling economy, the Big Fundamental has been voted to the All-NBA Defensive First Team eight times, while the Big Fella has been included on that team not once.
So what will separate the original NBA Superman from the Batmans, Silver Surfers and Mandrake the Magicians on planet Pro Basketball?
If O'Neal attempts to embark on his 19th season in the fall—and all indications are that he will—one more championship would carve the self-proclaimed Wilt Chamberneazy a spot alongside the real Wilt Chamberlain on the Mount Rushmore of NBA big men.
Which is why Shaquille O'Neal—yes, the same Shaquille O'Neal who won his first three rings with the Los Angeles Lakers, only to all but appear on "Divorce Court" with Kobe Bryant and ultimately end up in Miami—should conclude his career where it all but officially began.
The back-to-back champion Lakers are already the favorite to three-peat, a feat that was last accomplished way back when O'Neal operated in purple and gold. While L.A. lost almost half of its playoff personnel due to free agency this past season, general manager Mitch Kupchak is quickly assembling next season's roster, which now includes savvy point guard Steve Blake.
The truth is, the Lakers need O'Neal just as much as O'Neal needs the Lakers.
Shaq is as familiar with the intricate triangle offense as Hollywood actresses are with Botox.
Sure, he is old and overweight, but for 20 minutes a game, the Big Fella is still a force to be reckoned with on the interior, with the ability to command a casual double-team, put opponents in the foul penalty and rebound the basketball relatively well.
And if there is any coach who can confine 12 egos to one locker room, it's Phil Jackson.
As long as the Diesel can calm his egotistical engine and agree to serve as a viable back-up center to the injury-burdened Andrew Bynum, the Lakers would become more of a shoe-in to win a third straight ring than Emeril Lagasse in a cooking contest against a KFC chef.
The route to Ring Road and Championship Circle will likely go through L.A. in 2011. If O'Neal wants to win another title, he'll be aboard the Lakers' bandwagon in due time.
You can contact Josh Hoffman at JHoffMedia@gmail.com.
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