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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Shaq: I Need One More Ring to Complete My Legacy

I recently suggested that Shaquille O'Neal may have to share equal billing with Tim Duncan when history evaluates who was the dominant player of the post-Michael Jordan era. O'Neal believes that he needs to win at least one more championship to cement his "legacy." O'Neal says, "My legacy. Not what people write and create about me. My personal legacy, the one I want to leave for my kids. I'm not done with that yet. People talk about who the greatest players are and right now, my name is in a subcategory. I'm in the big-man category. See, Mike is the greatest player of all time. I want to be up there in that spoken word of players. How? Six championships. I've got four. If we can get five or six, maybe I can get in that conversation--if only for a couple of sentences."

That is a very mature and realistic perspective for O'Neal to take. The problem is that now that he has finally figured it out--that his legacy will be defined primarily by championships--he is no longer dominant enough physically to perform at the level that he did during his prime. What if O'Neal had felt this way about his career when he was young enough to turn those words into action? Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan--dominant players who led teams to at least five NBA titles each--did not have to tell anyone how they planned to ensure their legacies; they put in the work in the offseason so that the results showed during the season and during the playoffs. Those players' games improved and evolved during their careers and they kept themselves in prime condition so that they seldom missed games or put their teams at a disadvantage by being out of shape. Can O'Neal look at himself in the mirror and honestly say that during his career he worked as hard as those guys did? He did work hard at times and he certainly has accomplished a lot but if he really, truly wanted to be mentioned with Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson and Jordan then his actions years ago would have spoken louder than his words do now. In one of his commercials, Jordan said "Love is playing every game as if it's your last"--but he did not just say that: he lived it, approaching preseason games, midseason games against bad teams and NBA Finals games with manic intensity and focus. He once said that he always played that way because there might be someone in the stands who had never seen him play and he wanted to leave an indelible impression. Can anyone honestly say that O'Neal has had the same attitude? Yes, that is a high standard--maybe it seems impossibly, unfairly hard--but that is what it takes to reach the level that Jordan did; you don't get there just by talking about it.

posted by David Friedman @ 8:00 AM

29 comments

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29 Comments:

At Tuesday, October 23, 2007 7:35:00 AM, Blogger Jerusalem Joe said...

The real, unanswerable question is "what might have been?"
What could Shaq have achieved if he had the drive that michael had or even kobe has?
Perhaps he could have equaled Bill Russel, since his size and talent and skills are unique.

 
At Tuesday, October 23, 2007 8:23:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

This is why when I talk basketball I never include Jordan. I know in a previous post I did but you cant. Jordan is just levels ahead of anyone. Of course Shaquille doesnt have the drive as Mike. The Magics, the Birds, the Isiah had that drive. Shaquille no longer has competition at the center position (unless you count Duncan which no one does). That might ake away from his drive along with age and wear and tear.

 
At Tuesday, October 23, 2007 4:53:00 PM, Anonymous jn said...

One of the most emotional quotes in "Loose Balls" is Julius Erving going into the ABA offices and asking: "what else can I do to help?". The biggest star in the ABA and one the the greatest overall, coming off wins and MVPs and trophies, going in to ask what else he could do that he was not doing.

I can imagine Magic or Bird or Duncan doing that. Jordan or Kobe probably would not step down enough to ask but the thought would gnaw at them and search for ways.

Somehow, I don't see Shaq doing that. He's probably enjoying his ride more than other, more obsessed players, and that's fine and healthy and quite legitimate. But when final reckoning is made, that spirit will be found wanting.

 
At Tuesday, October 23, 2007 6:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

shaq has always had a pretty good drive when neccasry maybe he should of been in shape more but he was never going to be better than wilt or kareem or russell he is 4th all time thats where he was going to be he's the best player of his era and the most dominant a great guy and great teammate along the way he has had bumps in the road everybody has had bumps in the road. if he wins another title it's iceing on the cake the legacy is secure, im a big fan and think he is done and been great for the nba he gives alot to charity and won 4 rings kareem won 6 but 5 as 2 option magic was the best player on the team wilt only won 2 and rusell won 11 but played with 11 hof all the guys are better than to me individually but shaq has contributed alot and done alot as well.

 
At Wednesday, October 24, 2007 3:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I don't know what a "pretty good drive when necessary" is. That sounds like something that Shaq would say. i do know that the guys he claims to be chasing--Russell, MJ, Magic--had an excellent drive all the time. That is a big reason why they won more rings.

I do believe you when you say that you are a big fan of Shaq's--and there is nothing wrong with that. I respect what he has accomplished; I just wish that he would have been a little bit more dedicated during his prime years and really pushed the envelope to see how great he could have been.

 
At Wednesday, October 24, 2007 11:03:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

Anybody who claims Kareem won "five rings as second guy to Magic" really ought to revisit the first five games before the famous 6th game in the 1980 finals. For a start.

 
At Wednesday, October 24, 2007 1:29:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

"Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan--dominant players who led teams to at least five NBA titles each--..."

all of those players -- esp. russell -- played in NBA when there were fewer teams... so winning a title was hardly as much of an accomplishment as it is now, post-expansion. (Maybe a few of Jordan's titles were post expansion.)

let's see, Russell winning a title 15 team league, or whatever, vs. Shaq in a 30-team league, or whatever it is ... gee, I wonder which is more difficult?

also, none of those teams were in salary cap era, post-lockout ... which makes stockpiling talent, for dynasties, far more difficult

minor points that you might have wanted to consider...

 
At Wednesday, October 24, 2007 3:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Alternaviews:

One could look at the same set of facts that you just cited and reach a completely different conclusion, namely that the NBA is more watered down now. When there were fewer teams in the NBA the talent was more concentrated. One of the arguments that is made to diminish the home run totals posted by recent players (other than the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs) is that MLB has expanded so much that there are a lot of inferior pitchers today.

The bottom line is that one of the best ways to compare the very greatest players from each generation is how completely they dominated their contemporaries. There is no question that Russell was the dominant winner in the NBA in his era. Likewise with Kareem, Magic and MJ. Shaq/Duncan are the two most dominant winners of this era but neither has been as dominant compared to his peers in terms of championships (or MVPs and other individual accolades) as the others were in their times. When one talks about the best of the best, the standards are necessarily very high.

 
At Wednesday, October 24, 2007 3:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JN:

...and then look at the fact that Kareem was the MVP of the entire league in 1980 and the MVP of the Finals in 1985.

 
At Wednesday, October 24, 2007 4:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

yeah he probably could of had a little more drive. but shaq didnt eat drink sleep basketball like mj russell and kareem and they played on more talented teams than shaq not mj but rusell and kareem did i agree that i am a shaq fan as we all know he had a great career anyway you look at it.

 
At Thursday, October 25, 2007 2:56:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

A great point by JN. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has long been denied the credit he deserves just because he wasn't as media and fan friendly as some other stars, and because he played his prime in relative obscurity. The NBA has basically rewritten its history as being MJ-Magic-Bird, so guys like Kareem suffer. It's incredible how many NBA fans, after being fed the revised history for so many years, just casually assert things about MJ/Magic/Bird in comparison to others. If one goes back and watches the actual games, the notion of Kareem being the second best player on his team for all 5 80s titles is laughable. The thought of Kareem always being the second scoring option on offense to Magic is even more so. Magic didn't become the number one option until 86-87, and this would be clear to anyone who wants to look even barely beyond the surface.


Magic's Game 6 heroics overshadowed how dominant Kareem was during the 1980 playoffs. I honestly think that Game 5, not Game 6, was the most important game of that series. If the Lakers lost that game (and they came very close to doing so), Magic and Co. would not have been able to play as loosely and comfortably as they did in Game 6. In fact, we may have even seen Kareem hobbling around trying to play, which would have changed everything. The way the story is usually told, we see Kareem hobbling off the floor after injuring his ankle, then the conclusion of Game 5 is skipped and we see Magic jumping center in Game 6. What really happened is Kareem returned in the 4th quarter of Game 5 to score 14 points, finishing with 40 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks. The Sixers tied the game with less than a minute left, then Kareem converted a 3-point play and followed that up by forcing Dr. J into a difficult shot, which he missed. Many people involved with that series, including Jamaal Wilkes and Dr. J, have singled out Game 5 as the pivotal game. No one ever talks about this because Game 6 provided a fairy-tale like ending. Kareem was more deserving than Magic of the Finals MVP that year, and it has been written in various books that the CBS people changed the vote in Magic's favor to provide a better story. Most people close to the series felt Kareem should have been MVP, and even Magic admitted as much.

The 1985 Finals provides another great example of how important Kareem was to the Lakers' success. If you go back and watch the games, it's surprising how much the Lakers' set offense revolved around Kareem.

 
At Thursday, October 25, 2007 3:01:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

I don't see Kareem as one of those "basketball nutcase" type either. Magic, Jordan, Bird and others were undoubtedly so, but Kareem like Shaq always seemed to have his mind elsewhere - although Kareem's interests were actually quite different from Shaq's.

 
At Thursday, October 25, 2007 7:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam (and JN):

Very well put. Kareem was in fact the focal point of the Lakers' offense until the 1986-87 season.

JN:

You make a good point when you say that Kareem did not consistently display the near maniacal focus/intensity of Russell, Bird, Magic or MJ. However, other than perhaps his last season or two, Kareem's conditioning/weight was never an issue the way that Shaq's has been.

 
At Thursday, October 25, 2007 7:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kareem was good magic was better than him on those teams thats why wilt had a fallout with kareem he never felt kareem was on his level and he wasnt thats pretty simple if you look at the numbers in prime, kareem had more rings because he played on better teams. wilt said he couldnt do anything better than and he couldnt. as far as kareem not getting his due he was a all time geat player had a great shot in the sky hook magic got 3 finals mvp kareem 1 and in 1980 kareem was clearly the man but after that not as much. magic was 82 on karrem was dominant in the 85 finals but that was his last hurrah. cornbread maxwell got a finals mvp over bird in 81 bird was still better player and 1988 finals james worthy won the mvp magic was still best player on team. worthy just had a better series is all same with kareem in 85 magic was still they best player is my point.

shaq has always been the best player during his prime over penny and kobe. he was so dominant he still won the 3 finals mvp though,just last year tony parker won the finals mvp over duncan who thinks tony parker is better than duncan? just because kareem won finals mvp in 85 doesnt mean he was on equal billing with magic at 38 and magic 26 people.

 
At Thursday, October 25, 2007 11:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Scoring is not the only way to define value, but it is worth noting that Kareem was the team's leading scorer every year prior to 1987. He shot a very high percentage and was deadly not only in the halfcourt with the sky hook but also as a finisher on the break (that part of his game diminished gradually as he got older of course).

Wilt and Kareem engaged in some ugly and very public back and forth sniping at each other. Wilt resented that Kareem broke his career scoring record. In one of his books, Kareem called him "Wilt Chumperlame." Both men should really have been above all of the name calling and cheap shots.

Reggie, your whole business about "number one guy, number two guy" is very oversimplistic. Most championship teams have two great players, several good players and a decent bench. One guy never wins a championship by himself and it is rare that a team with only one great player wins (the 2004 Pistons, who had several All-Stars but possibly no future Hall of Famers are a rare exception to this). Kareem needed a great point guard (Oscar, Magic) but his great point guards also needed a great center and never won titles without one. Shaq needed a great scoring complement (Kobe, Wade) and has never won a title without one.

 
At Friday, October 26, 2007 1:27:00 PM, Anonymous jn said...

It's true that although Kareem had many interests outside of basketball, he never let them impact his preparation or performance the way Shaq has. I think that probably Kareem would have been a somewhat better player being much more focused in the game, but except in his very last season when he arrived overweight to training camp his trademark was always professionalism.

I really think that people ought to watch the games not the stat numbers: the Lakers had several remarkable scorers like Wilkes, Nixon, Scott and of course Big Game Worthy; but at least the 1980 and 1982 Finals revolved around the theme "can the Sixers stop Kareem or not". Much of the same thing can be said of the 1985 Finals - although not so clear by then, it's no coincidence that after the Memorial Day Massacre, Riley and others focused on Parish running Kareem out of the gym. Because as Kareem went, so went the team.

That changed around 1986 or so, I think you can perceive Magic taking over even before the formal "changing of the guard" as told in Showtime.

 
At Friday, October 26, 2007 11:48:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Wilt was always very sensitive about his place in history, and always felt that he was under-appreciated. Over the years, he took shots not only at Kareem, but Shaq, Jordan, Magic, Bird, Walton, ... basically anyone who was being praised at the moment as one of the greatest. From the time Kareem broke his scoring record to his retirement, there was much talk of how Kareem stacked up to the other greats, and it was during this time that Wilt continually took shots at him. During the 90s, Wilt always had something critical to say about MJ. Whenever a dominant team would emerge, be they the 76ers, Lakers or Bulls, Wilt would always go out of his way to voice his opinion that they couldn't even compare to his 1967 76ers team.

I think there were many valid points in Wilt's criticism of others, but also a lot of saltiness. The point is, if anyone is going to take Wilt's criticisms of Kareem as fact, then they should do so for all of Wilt's other opinions.

Anyway, when Wilt was in a less defensive mood, he often had good things to say about Kareem. He's called him the most skilled offensive player in history, the greatest player he ever guarded, and said that if he had to pick one player to take the last shot, it would be Kareem.

 
At Saturday, October 27, 2007 12:13:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

It's funny that when Kareem's 1985 Finals MVP is brought up, it's considered an aberration (like Maxwell's 1981 Finals MVP), but Magic's Finals MVPs prove that he was without question the best player on his team. The 1980 Finals MVP should have gone to Kareem and the 1982 Finals MVP could have gone to one of several players (Magic, Kareem, Nixon, Wilkes, even McAdoo).

I think that when discussing the 80s Lakers, people base their opinions too much off the most recent incarnations of that team. People forget that Kareem was a much more dominant player than he showed in the late 80s, and Magic was not always as good as he was then. People also remember an old Kareem who couldn't hold his position in the paint consistently, but no one remembers Magic's series-ending air-ball in the 1981 Playoffs or his mistakes during numerous key moments of the 1984 Finals. Magic's half-court offensive game was rather raw during the first 6-7 years of his career. He didn't develop a post-up game until 1987 (or at least he hardly ever used it until then), and he didn't develop a reliable jumper until about the same time. By no means am I trying to slight Magic. Magic is unquestionably one of the Top 10 players of all-time, and was my favorite player growing up. I'm just trying to look at things objectively.

I don't think anyone considered Kareem to be anything less than the best player on his team in 1980 and 1982. I'm talking DURING those years, not the revised image people are presenting today of those years. By 1985, Kareem was not as consistently dominant. However, the Lakers couldn't simply run past the Celtics as they could with lesser teams, and they had to rely on their half-court game which was built very heavily around Kareem. Kareem's Game 2 performance in that series is one of the best I've ever seen from any player of any age, and he kept pouring it on in the other games. The Celtics basically focused their defense around trying to stop Kareem. Anyone who actually has watched that series would not suggest that Kareem was some sort of "sidekick" or "second option" who was just along for the ride.

 
At Saturday, October 27, 2007 12:20:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

David and JN:

I'm wondering why you guys are so sure Kareem wasn't as intense/focused/obsessed about winning as MJ, Magic, and Larry. The latter players had interests outside of basketball themselves, some which were rather counterproductive to their health and a winning environment. For instance, the Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey trade has been said to have helped the Celtics in two ways. First, bringing in DJ for an average player. Second, it took away Larry Bird's favorite drinking buddy and forced Larry to focus more on basketball. Bird himself had admitted as much.

I'm not sure that Kareem having some more untraditional non-basketball interests, coupled with the fact that he wasn't always giving interviews talking about how much he liked to win, proves that he wasn't as focused on winning as MJ, Magic and Larry.

 
At Saturday, October 27, 2007 5:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

One compliment that Wilt paid to Kareem is that he said that Kareem was the first guy who he felt that he could not guard one on one; obviously, that had something to do not only with Kareem's greatness but also that Wilt was nearing the end of his career.

Any idea that Kareem was a "sidekick" could only be held by someone who is too young to remember the early 80s and has never seen enough games from that time period on ESPN Classic or NBA TV. When the Lakers did not score on the fast break the ball always went into Kareem in the post; that is where the offense started. He not only had the sky hook but he had a full array of moves and was a good passer as well. For at least the first half of the Showtime era he also ran the floor well and was a good finisher on the break.

Obviously, comparing the relative focus of several of the 10 greatest players of all-time is subjective. Perhaps Kareem's stoic demeanor works against him in this regard and also the fact that he made the game look so effortless and easy. Kareem would be the first to admit that Magic's enthusiasm and energy revitalized his career. Bird, Magic and MJ seem like players who brought an infectious level of energy to a team. Kareem seemed at times during his career to be technically proficient but not particularly passionate about what he was doing. That may not be a fair or entirely accurate assessment but that is definitely the vibe that he gave off. On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge Kareem did not have the issues with conditioning or defense that Shaq did until Kareem reached the last year or two of his career.

 
At Saturday, October 27, 2007 2:03:00 PM, Anonymous jn said...

Vednam,

A Spanish journalist once wrote that if you ever wanted Kareem looking at you in the eye while he talked, don't talk basketball talk jazz.

It's hard to imagine Magic or Bird or Jordan ever making a political or cultural statement - not just to be PC but because I don't think they ever researched or considered such issues. Bird said that the best moment in his first trip to Europe was landing back at JFK airport. Even Jordan, the ultimate corporate guy, managed to divide his life into corporate and sports (there was a famous ad to that theme, Jordan the CEO) and while in basketball he was relentessly driven.

I love Jabbar, he's my favourite player ever but you could see some nights he simply got by, getting his 25-8 by sheer talent and not providing the impact he was able to. He was all pro, did not fake injuries or even get so far as to "mail it in", but you could see that regular season Kareem was sometimes not playoffs Kareem.

Part of it is undoubtedly due to age, but even when their bodies gave up on them you could still see Magic, Bird, Barkley and the Wizards Jordan thinking they could will themselves to a championship whatever the odds.

Probably, Kareem also thought he could flip the switch at will; and to be honest he quite often did. But that is the same thing that O'Neal seems to think but taking it to a far greater extent. I suspect Kareem would rather retire than fail so completely to follow Wooden's credo of professionalism.

 
At Saturday, October 27, 2007 3:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

nobody didnt say kareem wasnt a top 10 player of all time i said you cant make a argument he the best of all time in my opion he is top 6 but kareem was dominant in the late 60's and through the 70's and early 80's magic took over in 82 and on really kareem was the best player on the team those 3 years. magic was the all around best player magic wasn't a big scorer so him leading the team in scoreing wasnt signicficant through 86 kareem definetely a great great player not the best ever thats wilt or jordan and nobody else just them 2 i think jordan over wilt but it's close.

wilt i didnt know much about wilt personally or anything i heard he had beef with kareem over scoreing from my dad im 20 my dad 45 so he seen these guys play thats where i get alot of my info old school from. both of the guys probably should of been bigger than this but wilt chumperlame lol funny.

your probably right i make too much of the number 1 number 2 option but when the defense is geared to stop you it's harder than when there not geared to stop you. and the number 1 option the d is geared to stop them more than number 2 and you recognize the best first then everybody else and thats what i do. when jordan shaq was at there peak the d was geared to stop them that opened up the floor for pippen and kobe, they both have proven there great players anyway but kobe and pippen would say it's easier with a shaq or jordan.

 
At Saturday, October 27, 2007 5:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

MJ and Wilt are not the only players who can be considered the greatest of all-time. Russell at least has to be mentioned.

Also, as I touched upon in my articles about the NBA pantheon, there are about 10 players who could "arguably" be called the greatest of all-time. You can perhaps make a stronger case for some of them than others but at some point in time each of them received at least some consideration in this regard. One of the things that has to be considered here is whether "greatest" means who was furthest ahead of his peers or who had the best season or who was consistently great for the longest period even if he was not the absolute best player in the league during that entire time. Certainly, Kareem had both a high "peak value"--he was tremendous during his best seasons--and he obviously lasted a very long time, most of which he played at a very high level.

While it is true that the "number one" option attracts a lot of defensive attention, when a team has two players who are worthy of being number one options--Shaq and Kobe, MJ and Pip, Kareem and Magic to cite three examples that we have been talking about here recently--then the defense really has a problem. As much as MJ opened things up for Pip, Pip's presence also opened things up for MJ. Pip's ballhandling ability enabled MJ to go up court and establish early post position in the triangle and Pip's ability on defense took pressure off of MJ at that end of the court. Pip could also anchor a unit of four reserves so that MJ could rest for a few minutes without the team falling apart; the Bulls even came back from a big deficit in the NBA Finals versus Portland with MJ on the bench while Pip played alongside four reserves. Then a rested MJ returned and teamed with Pip to bring the victory home. Due to Shaq's poor free throw shooting and obvious inability to bring the ball up the court, Kobe was a great end of the game scoring option for the Lakers. Also, Kobe could break down the defense and feed Shaq for dunks; remember the alley-oop that capped off the Lakers' comeback win versus Portland in the 2000 playoffs? A great big man makes things easier for a great guard but the great guard also makes things easier for the great big man.

Shaq and Kobe both finished in the top five in MVP voting at times during their run together, so to speak of either as a "number two" is silly; either guy would be "number one" on just about any team in the league and when you put two guys like that together on the same team it makes both of them that much better.

 
At Sunday, October 28, 2007 3:13:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

David:

Actually, Kareem made it a point in Giant Steps to mention that Magic's influence in what seemed like Kareem's "revitalization" had been overblown. Kareem felt that a new partner (who helped him realize how much fans appreciated him, among other things), a new contract, and a better team (of which Magic was a part of) were largely what renewed his enthusiasm and got him to open up a bit.

I would disagree strongly with the notion that the only way to maintain the highest level of focus/intensity/drive is to have an infectious level of energy and emotion about you and display it openly. Kareem felt that keeping a calm, emotional balance was the best way for him to maintain a high level of performance. The difference between the two approaches is captured in the ending of Magic's first game. I don't think there is anything wrong with either approach. Different things work for different people. The point is, just because Kareem didn't write it on his forehead, that didn't mean he wasn't an extremely intense, focused competitor.


JN:

I'm not sure if we should equate Kareem's lack of enthusiasm in discussing basketball with reporters with a lack of enthusiasm in playing basketball. To be honest, many reporters ask stupid questions, and Kareem was the type of person who for whatever reason didn't care much to humor such reporters. I can recall several times when a reporter would ask Kareem something like "Would you like to win Game 6 and finish the series tonight?" and Kareem would stare at the guy like he was an idiot before mumbling a two word response.

I do agree with you that at times it looked like Kareem wasn't pushing himself to the max. However, I think looks could have been deceiving in this case, simply because he made everything look so effortless. Michael Jordan weaving his way through defenders toward the basket is going to look like it took much more effort than Kareem tossing in a sky hook, or spinning toward the basket from the left block for an easy bank shot.

The other thing which should be brought up here is that as Kareem aged, pacing himself became very important. If he tried to provide a maximum impact (in terms of what he could do in his prime) every night in his late 30s, he probably wouldn't have made it past the first few months of the season. I don't think this is about effort, but about knowing your limitations and not trying to do more than you are capable of. It's worth noting that we don't remember Magic after his first retirement (at age 31), and hardly remember Bird past 31, after which he always seemed injured. By contrast, the vast majority of old games and highlights we see of Kareem come from his mid 30s onward. And even then, we were beginning to see Magic and Larry pacing themselves. As he entered his 30s, Magic was no longer trying to push the ball up the court as fast as he could. It had nothing to do with lack of desire or effort, but rather a knowledge of what his new limitations were.

 
At Sunday, October 28, 2007 3:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

You raise some valid points. I don't think that Kareem and Magic are particularly close off of the court, which may at least partially explain why Kareem would be loath to give Magic much credit for revitalizing his career; if he did so, Kareem would also be raising questions about how he performed prior to Magic's arrival.

Somehow it seems like I have been cast in a role as a Kareem detractor, which does not at all reflect my opinion of him. I looked back over this thread and the only remotely negative thing that I said about Kareem is when I agreed with JN that Kareem "did not consistently display the near maniacal focus/intensity of Russell, Bird, Magic or MJ." I didn't even say that he was not as focused as those guys, merely that he did not display--perhaps I should have said "openly display"--such focus.

I do think that Magic's arrival brought about a change in Kareem's demeanor. The formerly sullen captain was soon smiling and high fiving his teammates. That is not the same as saying that his focus changed, of course--but Magic did have an effect on him, whether or not Kareem chooses to acknowledge it. I think that Kareem was a great player who has to be in the discussion for the title of greatest player ever (not that he would necessarily be my first choice but he has to be on the slate of candidates).

 
At Sunday, October 28, 2007 4:21:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I don't think that you have come off as a Kareem detractor. In fact, I don't think this discussion has to do with crediting or discrediting Kareem at all. I think Kareem was a complex individual, and we've just been discussing his unique nature, and approach to basketball.

I think Kareem did acknowledge that Magic played a role in his "revitalization", or "opening up." Kareem just added that there were several other factors in his life at the time which played at least as important a role. Maybe Kareem resented Magic being credited so much, or maybe he was trying to set the record straight to writers who like to over-simplify everything.

I think Kareem suffered from the same "nobody loves Goliath" syndrome that Wilt did (though probably to a lesser extent). In his autobiography, you can tell that he resented many situations where he felt he was criticized or didn't get his proper due.

While it also seems to me like Kareem and Magic weren't close off the court, I never sensed any real distaste for each other. I think it was a generational gap as much as anything. At worst, Magic was the annoying little kid and Kareem the grumpy old man. They've always talked about each other with the utmost respect, and that seems to continue to this day. Kareem certainly has shown no problem in showing up at various social functions held by and celebrating Magic.


I think when you look at Kareem's list of accomplishments, his durability, and the complete, dominating game he had in his prime, he stacks up well against anyone who ever picked up a basketball. I tend to agree with your approach of lumping the best of the best together, though I might take it a step further and divide the "pantheon" into two levels. I think the very best arguments can be made for Kareem, Wilt and Michael. If I had to start a team from scratch, I'd go with size, and flip a coin to pick between Wilt and Kareem.

 
At Sunday, October 28, 2007 5:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree that there is no "distaste" or anything even remotely approaching that between Kareem and Magic. Bird and McHale were not particularly close off of the court, nor were MJ and Pip (other than their "Breakfast Club" workout sessions). I was just pointing out that to the best of my knowledge they are not close friends. I agree that Kareem suffers a bit from the nobody loves Goliath syndrome and that is another reason for him to be reticent to credit Magic too much for rejuvenating him.

MJ is the popular choice of the moment for greatest player of all-time and a good case can certainly be made for him but I think that it is easier to win a title with a great big man (provided that he is healthy and motivated, of course). All things being equal, if a coach could have a Kareem in his prime or an MJ in his prime the decision would not be as easy as younger fans may believe. As I've pointed out in other threads, a great player needs a support system to win titles--this usually consists of at least one other great player, several good role players and a good (preferably great) coach. Neither MJ nor Kareem nor anyone else can just take a team to a title singlehandedly. MJ, Dr. J in his ABA prime and Rick Barry with the 1975 Warriors are the best of the mid-size players who have led teams to championships. MJ did so in tandem with another great mid-size player, while Erving and Barry had help from lesser known but solid players. Those teams all needed fantastic performances at various times from MJ, Dr. J and Barry to get over the hump. Kareem could certainly be fantastic but he also could routinely deliver 25-12 (or better) while creating matchup problems on offense and blocking shots on defense. Dr. J has consistently said that Kareem was the best player he played against and it is hardly a stretch to say that Doc might have two more rings if Kareem had not been with the Lakers in '80 and '82.

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 4:40:00 AM, Blogger loren lee said...

yeah well to the best of my recollection, MJ took a while to start winning titles, he had to wait 'til Magic/Bird were done first. It was mostly Celtics, LA in the 80's, with Magic as a rookie w/Kareem winning it in '80 against Birds' Celtics with Larry being a rookie too. As I remember,the year before Larrys' rookie year his team finished last in their division and then they played the lakers in the finals in '80. That's an impact! And Lou Alcinders' (Kareem) team (Milwaukee) made huge strides with him coming into the league right away too, with winning it all in only his 2nd year in the league and I beleive earning him the leagues' MVP, just before being traded to the Lakers in the biggest (worst) trade at the time ever. I agree with both of you in that if you are to start a team from scratch, pick the best big man of the era if he is available, if he is free of injury (which it's almost impossible to know the future on this, ask Portland) That is the correct way to start a new team/franchise. And build from there, it's been proven too many times, with the exception of the '85 draft with MJ going after Bowie, but even then "Akeem the dream" went #1 and won 2 titles.

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 5:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Other than MJ's first years--when his team was not a legit contender--it was Detroit, not Bird and the Celtics, that kept beating the Bulls.

The Celtics changed coaches and several players between '79 and '80 though Bird was obviously the biggest single change. They didn't make the Finals in '80, though; Philly beat them in five in the Eastern Conference Finals.

 

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