Shaq: I Need One More Ring to Complete My LegacyI 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