Has there ever been a player in the NBA who felt like he made the most of his career and yet, left so many things on the table? On the surface, Shaquille O’Neal’s career is Hall of Fame-worthy in every way that phrase holds weight. He’s a four-time champion, three-time Finals MVP, one-time league MVP, and without question one of the most dominant players the NBA has ever seen. His resume speaks for itself, but then you hear Shaq himself admit to having played “only 30 percent of my real game” during his career.
Therein lies the curious case of Shaquille O’Neal.
It speaks to what kind of player Shaq could’ve been if he had played up to his potential. It’s not hard to imagine it really. At his peak, there was nobody else quite like him. He was dominant in every sense of the word. He was a singular force of nature who forced the NBA to alter some of its rules. Only a handful of players in the history of the league can lay claim to changing the way the game was played, and as dynamic as Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are today, Shaq was just the same in his prime, maybe even more so.
But again, for all of his accomplishments, he also missed a significant number of games to injury, 200-plus by his own estimate when he was averaging 25-plus points per game. Part of it could be attributed to forces beyond his control, but there were times when his work ethic was rightfully questioned. After all, Shaq is the same man who said that since he got injured on company time, he was going to rehab on company time.
Statements like this paint an unflattering picture of the self-proclaimed Big Aristotle. In the end, though, even his harshest critics will have to admit that despite his shortcomings, Shaq was on his A-game whenever his team needed it.
*40 points and 24 rebounds in Game 2 of the 2000 NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers
*41 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks in Game 6 of the 2000 NBA Finals
against the same Pacers team
*28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks in Game 2 of the 2001 NBA Finals
against the Philadelphia 76ers
*41 points and 17 rebounds in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals
against the Sacramento Kings
Say what you will about his perceived lack of dedication, but when the lights were brightest and the pressure was at its highest, Shaq didn’t just deliver, he outright dominated.
So as we look back on his much-praised Hall-of Fame career, remembering Shaquille O’Neal’s legacy is made a lot easier when you understand that taking the good with the bad was all part of the entire Shaq Fu experience. And as glaring as his shortcomings were, they don’t even come close to tainting a reputation and a legacy that’s unlikely to be replicated for generations to come. Just as he steamrolled the NBA during his illustrious career, Big Daddy Cool is rampaging his way to the Hall of Fame.
Shaquille O’Neal’s NBA career wasn’t always a smooth ride, but anybody with a speck of knowledge about his influence on the league will tell you that when that ride began in 1992 in Orlando, it always had one clear destination: the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Shaquille O’Neal, MDE.