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Monday, April 01, 2013

Kevin Ding's Take on Kobe Versus Shaq

The 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.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:42 AM



At Monday, April 01, 2013 12:53:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

I always considered Shaq, at his peak, the greater player, but Kobe Bryant's unquestionable dedication to the game means he has the greater career.

At Monday, April 01, 2013 3:44:00 PM, Anonymous aw said...

Shaq wanted a thirty million per year extension added to his final two years with l.a., and when he wasnt going to get it he demanded a trade. Kobe had opted out of the final year of his contract and he was testing free agency when shaq was making his trade demands. Even after shaq was traded, kobe was close to signing with clippers. But he decided to resign with the Lakers.So really the Lakers were in Danger of losing both players. It may no sense to pay Shaq like he was going to be elite for five or six more years which he clearly wasnt going to be. Even if Kobe signed with another team immediately before Shaq was traded, that wasnt going to motivate the Lakers to give shaq the extension he wanted. They still would have traded him rather have him opt out of the final year of his contract after the 2004-2005 season with him walking away getting nothong signing witj a team that would be stupid enough to pay him a long term max deal like miami did.

If the Lakers gave shaq what he wanted, they wouldnt have been able to resign Kobe. Shaq would be left with the worse team he ever had. Without a young all nba first team player leading the way, he declines quicker than what he did in Miami. And the Lakers elwould look bad.

I also agree Shaq underachieved. He.won only one mvp. Which is a travesty. I consider him the most dominant player ever. He should have like 6 mvps at least and like 6-7 titles. He could have been the goat.

At Monday, April 01, 2013 4:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In various articles I have detailed what happened with the Lakers and Shaq in 2004 so I will not cover that ground again here; your recap is reasonable, though it is not clear how close Kobe really was to signing with the Clippers. I would not believe everything that is reported in the media. I think that it has always been important to Kobe to be a Laker for life.

It is not entirely Shaq's fault that he only won one MVP--Shaq deserved more MVPs than he received, as does Kobe--but he underachieved because he did not maximize his talents or work hard enough to stay in peak condition.

At Tuesday, April 02, 2013 2:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

considering that other bigs before shaq consistently made their free throws, if shaq made a comparable effort, it certainly would have made him a more effective player in his prime and during his decline.

At Tuesday, April 02, 2013 6:57:00 PM, Anonymous aw said...

Even with shaqs poor free throw shooting, I'd take Shaq at his peak to start a team with over any other players peak in nba history. The 2000 version of Shaq was insanely dominant.

At Saturday, April 13, 2013 8:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grrr...the OC Register website where Kevin Ding's article is posted now required paid subscription in order to read it.

At Saturday, April 13, 2013 9:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, the OC Register now requires payment to read articles that used to be available for free.


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