Comparing eras is always problematic.
And I'm not suggesting that Shaquille O'Neal was better or worse than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But when push comes to shove, I think Kazaam deserves one more than the co-pilot in Airplane!
Kareem was an unbelievable player. He remains the league's all-time leading scorer, he won six titles (two more than Shaq), won six league MVPs (five more than Shaq), and was in Los Angeles far longer than O'Neal: 15 seasons for Abdul-Jabbar, only eight for Shaq.
But some men don't have to spend a decade and a half in the same uniform to be truly iconic. Shaq was one of those players.
It's certainly comparing apples to oranges, but for now, let's dismiss the debate that starts with
PERSON 1: "Shaq had Kobe!"
PERSON 2: "Yea, well Kareem had Magic!"
Both big men had an all-time great guard in their backcourt so lets call that a wash.
Instead, look at the performance in the finals.
Not only did Kareem's Lakers lose the finals four times—only once for Shaq's Lakers—but the Big Aristotle was the MVP of each of the Lakers three titles during their three-peat. I'm not saying that Kareem didn't step up in the big moments—he certainly did and he was the MVP of the 1985 Finals. But Shaq had a handful of monster games during the run to the title, be it in the Conference Finals or the NBA Finals.
But it's not just about hardware, it's also about the indelible mark they made on the franchise and the sport itself. When you think about those Showtime Lakers, do you think of Kareem's skyhook and goggles or Magic's ear-to-ear smile and crazy passes? I think of Magic first and foremost.
And when I think of that Lakers squad that won three in a row at the start of the new millennium, I think of Shaq's baby hook and him missing free throws long before I think of Kobe's mini-Afro and him launching threes and driving to the rim.
If that's not enough to convince you that Shaq deserves a statue instead of Kareem, I can appreciate your argument. Except for this one thing: YOU DON'T COME OUT AND SAY I DESERVE A STATUE!
That's exactly what Kareem said last month:
"I don't understand (it). It's either an oversight or they're taking me for granted. I'm not going to try to read people's minds, but it doesn't make me happy. It's definitely a slight. I feel slighted."
If you have to be point out that you should be honored by someone, you shouldn't be honored. It's like the person who tries to throw their weight around by saying "Don't you know who I am?" Clearly, if you have to say it, then you're not that powerful or important.
I don't think Kareem is being slighted, but they already have a statue of Magic Johnson outside the Staples Center (along with Wayne Gretzky and Oscar De La Hoya.) It's pretty difficult to justify having two statues from the same era outside the building when there isn't one of Jerry West or Elgin Baylor or George Mikan or Chick Hern, who was there a lot longer than Kareem.
Although he already has his number retired, Kareem may eventually get a statue. But I think the next piece of bronze they erect outside the Staples Center will be from the Laker dynasty after Kareem's. And if it isn't Shaq it will be Kobe: the more deserving recipient of that honor is a debate for another time...assuming the Shaq Fu doesn't publicly say he deserves one ASAP.