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Shaq: Best Big Man Ever, Or Perpetual Second Banana?

Illustration for article titled Shaq: Best Big Man Ever, Or Perpetual Second Banana?

We are about to enter the first week in a world in which Shaquille O'Neal is a Cavalier. Diesel's last stop or not, it's worth speculating what his legacy will be. It's not so cut and dried.

Five teams for Shaq, and five times his teammate has been one of the best in the league. A swingman, two 2-guards, a point guard, and now a small forward. Four MVPs between them, and Dwyane Wade and Penny both finished as high as third. The image of Shaq in recent years is that of the reliable big man brought in to free up the star and put in a few points and grab a few boards while he's at it.

It wasn't always like this. The Magic built around Shaq. They added Penny to make him better. O'Neal led his team in scoring seven out of his first nine seasons, until someone named Kobe took over the Lakers.


We forget this now, but there was a big debate over who to build the Lakers around. Shaq had an MVP award of his own, and should have had two or three others. As late as 2001-02 — the final year of the Lakers' threepeat — O'Neal led the team in ppg.

It's impossible to judge him by how he'll perform with LeBron. He's 37 years old, with 17 seasons under his belt (and on his knees). But how will history judge Shaquille O'Neal? Will he be the big-man-for-hire, brought in to put teams over the top? Will we remember him drawing defenders and pulling down rebounds, creating more shots for Penny, Kobe, D-Wade, Nash and LeBron? Or will we remember him as a star in his own right?

I'm not sure Shaq really cares. Bill Russell was never the focal point of his own offense, instead playing a support role for Havlicek, Heinsohn and Cousy. If we remember him like we remember Bill Russell, I think that's good enough for Shaq.


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