Shaquille O'Neal couldn't leave well enough alone in Cleveland.
Let me begin with a simple premise.
If I had to lay money down on a shooting contest between Mo Williams and LeBron James, I would take Williams every time.
Three-point shootout, a la the NBA’s All-Star Weekend? I’d take Williams.
Free-throw shooting contest? No-brainer: Williams.
The old “Hot Shot” contest, from multiple spots on the floor? Williams, again.
If you want to debate the issue, fine, we’ll get to that.
First, listen to what Shaquille O’Neal said last week to John Reid of the New Orleans Times Picayune.
After praising his new teammates in Boston for playing together and not worrying about who shoots when, O’Neal inexplicably singled out Williams in a criticism leveled at just about every Cavalier other than James.
“When I was with Cleveland, guys who couldn’t even play were worried about shots,” he declared.
Couldn’t even play? Worried about shots? Do tell, big guy, do tell.
“Why was Mo (Williams) taking 15 shots, and I’m only taking four?”
Well, I think I can tell you, Shaq—but, continue.
“If LeBron takes 20 shots, that’s cool,” he went on.
Before I could go on, however, I had to clean up the coffee I had just spit all over my keyboard.
Complain all you want about Mo Williams’ defense. Point out his flaws as a true point guard if you must. Comment on his hair or his choice of tattoos, if you’re that desperate to hammer the guy.
But his shooting? Really?
Here’s a guy who is a 45 percent career shooter. He’s connected on 40 percent of his three-pointers and 87 percent of his free throws.
The year before O’Neal arrived in Cleveland, Williams took almost 14 shots a game. Last year, with Shaq on board, that number dropped to slightly more than 12.
Not surprisingly, Williams’ scoring average dropped from 17.8 to 15.8 points per game.
O’Neal, meanwhile, took almost nine shots a contest last season, not four.
Now, on to James, who is not known for his outside shooting prowess. Around the basket, he’s an unstoppable force. Away from it, he’s average, converting 33 percent of his three-pointers and 74 percent of his free throws.
The Boston Celtics capitalized on that knowledge by forcing James outside as much as possible during the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The result? James hung around the perimeter and shot a paltry 11 of 35 in the final two games, as the Celtics eliminated the dispirited Cavaliers.
Statistics aside, however, what was Shaq’s point in blasting Williams? Despite his diminished skills, O’Neal had been a fan favorite in Cleveland and had previously professed his love for the city and the region.
There’s been speculation that he was irritated by something Williams said last week, about wanting to stay in Cleveland and leave a legacy as a Cavalier.
If O’Neal took that as a personal affront, he shouldn’t have. Even though Boston is Shaq’s sixth NBA team, there’s nothing to indicate that Williams was referring to him or his many travels.
By taking pot shots at his former teammate—and team—O’Neal needlessly alienated a city that had embraced him and his fun-loving ways during his 12-month sojourn in Northeast Ohio.
The one-year experiment didn’t work out as hoped, but few Cleveland fans blamed O’Neal. In fact, most felt he had played about as well as could be expected.
Even if O’Neal had been justified in his criticism of Williams and the Cavs, it would have been bad form to voice it. The fact that he was so far off the mark, however, only underscores the suggestion, made by many, that as a former teammate Shaq is all about Shaq.
You can’t have much of a legacy that way, either.