Kevin Ding's Take on Kobe Versus ShaqThe conventional, mainstream media perspective in 2004 was that the L.A. Lakers made a big mistake when they chose to build around Kobe Bryant instead of building around Shaquille O'Neal. I offered a more reasoned and nuanced take that proved to be quite prophetic: as I predicted, the Miami Heat benefited in the short run by acquiring O'Neal but the Lakers made the correct long term decision, ultimately reaching the NBA Finals three straight times and winning back to back titles.
Despite suffering from a bone spur in his left foot, Bryant just moved into fourth place on pro basketball's career scoring list, passing Wilt Chamberlain--the man who held the career scoring mark from 1965 until 1984. Although Bryant topping Chamberlain is noteworthy, Kevin Ding points out that the big news is that Bryant has been dealing with this bone spur for several years without publicly mentioning it. That revelation prompted Ding to offer a passionate but also very logical final verdict regarding Bryant and O'Neal. Ding's article should be read in its entirety but here are some quotes to whet your appetite for the kind of first rate NBA analysis that is all too rarely found in today's media cesspool that is dominated by screaming TV commentators and semiliterate writers who generate much heat but precious little light:
This bone spur in Kobe Bryant's left foot?
He has had it for years.
He has played through it for years without publicizing it and the challenges it has prompted him to overcome. Think about that the next time anyone says Bryant's toughness, focus or drive for greatness is overdramatized.
Whether Bryant now chooses to detail the specifics of the bone spur, it's incredibly appropriate that on his latest historic night--passing Wilt Chamberlain for No. 4 on the NBA all-time scoring list Saturday in Sacramento--he played all but 22.6 seconds of the game just two days after the bone spur prompted a wheelchair to be requested for him to leave Milwaukee's Bradley Center. (He didn't use it.)
Ding was just warming up, though. Bryant's determination to play through injuries markedly contrasts with O'Neal's infamous decision to delay toe surgery by explaining, "I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time." Ding understands that Bryant's work ethic--not the soap opera nonsense that fascinated many media members--was the real difference between Bryant and O'Neal and the most valid reason for the Lakers to choose Bryant over O'Neal:
When O'Neal was 34, as old as Bryant is now, he had already fallen off the cliff. O'Neal won his post-Kobe title at age 33 (despite shooting 37 percent on free throws over the 23-game playoffs; fortunately for Shaq, Dwyane Wade shot 80.8 percent). The next year, O'Neal played only 40 games while making $20 million from Miami, and the Heat got swept by Chicago in the first round--the first time that happened to a defending champion in 50 years. Despite vowing never to hang on as a fringe player, O'Neal then bounced around Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston over the course of his final five seasons.
O'Neal wound up No. 5 on the all-time scoring list, passed by Bryant last season.
Even with Bryant not yet done playing, this is as good a time as any for the final word on the Shaq-Kobe era.
O'Neal underachieved. Bryant overachieved.
And whatever immature or selfish things Bryant did along the way as he fought for more, O'Neal did even more of them trying to guard his turf. Anyone who takes O'Neal's side or respects him more for what he has done in this game is simply a fool.
Everyone on the list of the NBA's top scorers besides Michael Jordan and Bryant, both 6-foot-6, is at least 6-9: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Chamberlain, O'Neal, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon. It's a game geared for big men, and no one else on that list had the epic confluence of height, power and athleticism that O'Neal did.
Yet by not sweating the details, not taking care of his body, not truly embracing Bryant's rising star when they could've won much more together, O'Neal left a lot on the table...unclaimed, unearned.
Although Ding should have mentioned that Julius Erving is another "midsize" player who ranks highly on pro basketball's career scoring list, he is right on target on all other counts, including the blunt conclusion that Shaq "underachieved," but the sad truth is that there are plenty of so-called experts who are foolish enough to take O'Neal's side--and the even sadder truth is that the fools who propagate such nonsense are often given very high profile positions in the mainstream media.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:42 AM