Shaquille O'Neal: The Most Underappreciated Player of His Era

Brian Mazique@@UniqueMaziqueCorrespondent IIIJune 3, 2011

AUBURN HILLS, MI - JUNE 13:  Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers watches a freethrow in game four of the 2004 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons on June 13, 2004 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

"Nobody likes Goliath," no truer words have ever been uttered, especially in sports. The person who gave us this poignant perspective would know a thing or two about Philistine comparisons.

Wilt Chamberlain was that person, he of the gigantic on court accomplishment and even more eye popping off the court conquests. Wilt was so far ahead of his time, his name should've been Marty McFly.

There was no one who could guard him. Bill Russell was perhaps the greatest defender of all time and his teams had success against Chamberlain, but the Dipper always got his. Their supporting casts were not equal in the least bit.

Wilt gets his due as an all time great, but he is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. Despite the fact that he averaged 30 points and 23 rebounds per game...for his career. Not a season, not a playoff series, but a 14-year career.

So why not Wilt when the VERY best players of all-time are discussed? Chamberlain's biggest negatives on his body of work is that he ONLY won two championships and he ONLY won four MVP awards.

ONLY...keep that word in your mind as you read the rest of this article.

The most comparable player to Chamberlain since his retirement after the 1972-73 season is the recently retired Shaquille O'Neal. From the first moment he shattered a backboard or even before that, as he terrorized mortal college student athletes while playing three years at LSU, Shaq was a giant.

In his prime, no player affected every possession he was on the floor like O'Neal. With all due respect to the game's greatest player, Michael Jordan, Shaq had the ability to impact the game in more ways than MJ.

I can feel you getting upset with the MJ reference. So many people behave as if referencing Mike in comparison to anyone is like holding a picture next to the Shroud of Turin and checking for a resemblance.

Though Mike is unequaled in the combination of accomplishment, talent and appeal, there are players that from a pure basketball standpoint effect the events on the floor as much as MJ. Shaq was one of those players.

O'Neal was the single most dominant player in the NBA for 10 years. From 1993 until 2003, there wasn't a more game impacting player than Shaq. He averaged 28 points per game 12 rebounds per game over that span of time.

There have only been 10 other players to have a single season averaging 28 and 12. Shaq is the only player to have had a single season at this clip since 1982 when Moses Malone accomplished the feat, his only season at that level. This was O'Neal's average output for a decade.

No other player is close, but yet Shaq only owns one MVP award. One...the 1999-2000 season was stellar, 29.7 points per game 14 rebounds per game.

In 2004-2005 Shaq finished second in the MVP voting to Steve Nash. Nash had a fabulous season, the Suns were 62-20. Shaq at this time had been moved to Miami and he joined Dwyane Wade, they would win the NBA title the following year. There was a healthy amount of controversy in this decision as Nash's numbers paled in comparison to O'Neal.

I will readily admit that O'Neal's injuries cost him more opportunities at the award, but this year in particular could've easily been his trophy. So, why didn't he get the nod? When you're 7 feet tall and have a history of dominance, sub-consciously people tend to pencil in 20 and 10 for you. Thus, the brilliance of the achievement is dimmed by fans and the medias' expectations.

On the other hand, you have a point guard, who when you look at him, the first thing that pops into your mind is not "elite basketball player." His accomplishments, though amazing, shine a little brighter primarily because of subconscious expectations.

This has been the plight of O'Neal and Chamberlain before him. No matter what they accomplish, its never enough to truly impress the masses. The masses can't relate to them, they are too large to be appreciated for anything other than being big.

If Shaq had average 30 points and 15 rebounds for his entire career? I'm willing to bet that there is a decent amount of people that would either say or feel "As big as he is, he SHOULD average that much."

If he had won six rings instead of four, do you think that accomplishment would be as glowing as MJ's six or Magic's five? I think, there is a certain degree of expectation of him because of his size. What did we expect from Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan before we saw their greatness? Shaq's expectations were up before the first backboard came down.

On the other side, had he averaged 18 points per game and 10 rebounds for a decade, people would've said "Alonzo Mourning had those types of numbers at he was no where near as big as Shaq".

There is no perfect player, MJ for all his greatness wasn't a great three point shooter, LeBron doesn't have a back to the basket game, Magic wasn't a spectacular athlete. The same is true for Shaq, but despite all of his dominance, he is known as much or more for his most glaring weakness.

I can't remember another great player having their weakness attacked on the level that Shaquille's free-throw shooting has been for 20 years. Why? Hell, you gotta find something wrong with a seven foot giant that nobody can stop from dominating 65 percent of the games he plays in.

True appreciation for Shaq is unreachable, because the view of him and the few others like him is distorted by so many. Nobody likes Goliath, it is much more exciting to see the giant conquered than to see him destroy the little people. It is a shame that a players' physical attributes diminish the appreciation of his impact on the game. I guess size really does matter.

Anyway, peace out Diesel, thanks for all the memories.


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