Superman No More: Shaquille O'Neal Embracing His Dark Side

marc mctCorrespondent IAugust 25, 2010

I had a conversation with my brother after Shaquille O'Neal signed with the Boston Celtics.  He read my article Benedict Shaq (link - Shaquille) and thought that O’Neal had every right to go to the Celtics. I, as my article pointed out, disagreed. 


Of course, my brother and I got into it and went back and forth for a bit. I assumed that he being a lifelong Sixers fan (I gotta feel for him), was playing devil's advocate...a.k.a. “hating.”  It seems that anyone who is not a Lakers fan feels that the Shaq move was not only the right move, but that it shouldn’t affect Lakers fans either way.  Needless to say, I was not happy.  He didn’t get it and nothing I said could sway him.  


And hit me. He’s a Red Sox fanatic. Not simply a fan, but a fanatic—stemming from the Latin fanaticus, which translates into—frenzied, irrational zeal, excessive enthusiasm and intense uncritical devotion. 


So I conjured up several analogies using the Red Sox and the New York Yankees...a.k.a. “the evil empire.” My brother and I agreed that depending on who the person was determined the gravity of the move and its implications—i.e., whether it had weight or not.


After a number of poor attempts, I mentioned Johnny Damon’s defection to the Yanks, which I recalled ruffled more than a few feathers.  A bump in the road, but not much more he said. 


He bizarrely countered my Damon example with Brian Shaw and Rick Fox, both former Celtics who are now synonymous with the Lakers. The conclusion: boo-worthy, but no real weight.


As the logic I summoned seemingly fell on deaf ears, I said the only thing I could: “What player move would cause you unimaginable agony?”  Almost immediately I could hear the change in his voice “Ortiz or Ramirez.” He said vehemently—they mattered! After several deep breaths he calmed down and almost gave a little ground.  A few moments later, "It’s different with Shaq though," he said, delusionally maintaining his stance.  


The hater.  Why couldn’t he understand?  Any way you slice it, Shaq plus Celtic Green was just wrong.


As we neared the inevitable place known as stalemate I tossed out a peace offering.  


"One thing is for sure, you know Shaq’s going to lay the wood on Kobe and Lebron."


“True,” he exclaimed, and then he said it—“Shaq is smart.”


“What?!” I responded. Was he rubbing ridiculously course salt in the collective Laker nation wound?  “Smart,” he said again.


Smart how? I wondered to myself the way many of us do when a question or statement is so mystifying that it scrambles a lifetime of neurons floating around in the brain. To which, after an extended period of uncomfortable silence, he said, "What if Shaq is redefining his brand?" Hmm, I thought. 


“You mean by becoming an enforcer?” I said.


“Yes,” he exclaimed. “A bruiser. The new Bill Laimbeer—green edition.”


I was dumbstruck. The way I often am when something rings so completely true.  It made sense in so many ways.  For all of his faults, Shaq is no dummy.  He’s an entertainer—a businessman. Reinventing himself would make him someone you love to hate, kind of like in pro wrestling. 


You see, often times when characters' popularity in pro wrestling wanes they suddenly become bad, to renewed success and...infamy.  It’s almost like when Hulk Hogan, the All American Wrestler clad in yellow and red, later went to the dark side, becoming a very popular villain. 


“That’s good,” I told him, “really good.” 


"It makes sense,” he said.  I agreed.  


“Why don’t you write about that?” he said.


“I might.” I replied.


And that brings us to here.  We had this conversation nearly two weeks ago and it simply won’t leave my brain.


This summer has given us no less than three villains in the form of the much vaunted Miami trio known as the SuperFriends. Though I might liken them more closely with the Legion of Doom. Chief among them is Lebron James, who at the moment is public enemy No. 1.  


So, why not one more?  One who has the potential to derail the lofty expectations of said trio. Essentially, the biggest and the baddest antihero of them all.


The Celtics are already hard-nosed and physical in a way no other team truly understands. Just look at the in-game mugs of the starters Garnett, Pierce, Rondo, and Perkins—intense, intimidating, and domineering. In fact, the only person scowling on the team who looks silly doing it is Jesus Shuttlesworth (a.k.a. Ray Allen).  However, their collective toughness and fortitude can’t be questioned.  Shaquille O'Neal’s adoption of this new persona would take them over the top.


It takes a lot to go through the pinball machine that is the Celtics defense. While no longer dominant, O’Neal is still massive. Imagine 300-plus pounds hammering you to the floor. Bye, bye SuperFriends?  Bye, bye three-peat?  It worked incredibly well for the Pistons against Jordan and the Bulls, so why not for the Celts?


What better way to endear himself to the rabid masses of Boston than to play the ultimate tough guy, the man responsible for knocking King James and the Black Mamba on their asses.


Shaq is nothing if not a larger than life persona.  He's always played the entertainer, the lovable big guy with a thousand watt smile, but in reality he's been the opposite.  As nearly every organization he's played for can attest, when O’Neal is on his way out of town he leaves a gigantic swath of destruction in his wake.


If this were wrestling I could very easily picture Shaq in a police uniform, patrolling the paint as the ultimate bad cop.  It’s basketball, however, and despite the lack of costumed theatrics (Paul Pierce's wheelchair return in the '08 finals notwithstanding), O’Neal patrolling the paint in this new role has to give anyone pause.


Shaquille O’Neal the enforcer—very smart indeed.