Who Was Luckier? Us or Shaq
**Today's post is from our featured guest writer Phillip Barnett aka I'm So Hideous, check him out as a regular contributor at Talk Hoops**
You may have already read 7,635,425 blogs and articles answering the pressing question of: Will the Shaq for Cracker Jacks trade work for the Cavaliers. The short answer: No. And that's all you're getting out of me on that one. I'm here to answer a more interesting question: Is Shaq the luckiest big man of all time - or are we the lucky ones?
With Shaq moving to Cleveland, he is paired up with Lebron James, the fifth time the Big Something or Other (© Celia Kelly) has been paired up with a great parameter player. It started in Orlando with Penny Hardaway, he moved to Los Angeles to play with Kobe Bryant, moved back to Florida to play with Dwyane Wade, shifted his weight to Arizona and played with Steve Nash and is now with one of the most freakish athletes we've ever seen? Again, I ask, who has been luckier, Shaq or us?
NBA: FEB 26 Suns at Lakers
Off top, it seems like this answer would undeniably be Shaq. However, we've got to see the greatest center of this era, and one of the most candid athletes of all time, play with some of the most exciting basketball players of the last decade, and we're just months away from seeing him team up with the most exciting in the game now.
Has a center ever been more blessed to play with more future Hall of Famers than Shaq? Kareem got to play with Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson. Wilt played with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Russell played with Bob Cousy. Olajuwon played with Clyde Drexler, but that was at the end of his career. The most exciting perimeter player Robinson played with was Rod Strickland, and had Ginobili as a rookie as he was leaving the league. Ewing had John Starks, Xavier McDaniel and Larry Johnson. None of those lists jump out at you like Penny, Kobe, Wade, Nash and Lebron - no second name needed for any of them.
Was Shaq lucky when Orlando drafted the crafty, ultra athletic Penny Hardaway from Memphis in 1993? Shaq was drafted in '92 to bring life to a franchise that had been dead since its beginning and Hardaway was brought in to play Jake Hoyt to Shaq's Alonzo and tear through the league. Young Shaq and Penny made the NBA Finals in their second year together, establishing Shaq as one of the most dominate young centers the league had ever seen despite getting swept in the Finals. In Penny's first season, Shaq saw his scoring increase by six points per game, but again, maybe we were the lucky ones. Hardaway was one of those point guards who wasn't afraid to get in the lane and try and dunk on someone. It seemed like he made one ridiculous no-look pass every game and just had swag beyond his years. How could you top watching what some thought may have been the center position evolving with a 7'1'', 300 pound man who could run the floor and had a post game for half court sets? Sadly, just like Alonzo and Jake in "Training Day," Shaq and Penny had different views on the way things were supposed to operate and that made a disgruntled big man pick up his things and leave Orlando for Los Angeles to get paired with what would go on to be the best duo of the first half of the next decade.
Shaq's move to Los Angeles proved to be a huge one indeed. Was he lucky to be traded to a team that just drafted Kobe Bryant, the young wonder kid and the newest "Next Michael Jordan?" When they were on the court together it posed problems never seen before in the NBA. We had never seen a problem like the problem the Kobe-Shaq problem posed for NBA teams before they got together in '96. If you double-teamed Shaq, Kobe went to work, if you double-teamed Kobe, Shaq went to work. There was now way to double team them AND defend three other professional basketball players. With Kobe, Shaq earned an MVP, three titles and a Finals MVP for each title he won with Kobe. With Kobe as his partner in crime, he solidified his spot as a top three center of all time. Not only that, when they went to work it was exciting. So, maybe we were the lucky ones? You remember that lob Kobe threw to Shaq against Portland they have in those "Where Amazing Happens" commercials or when Shaq was shooting technical free throws against Sacramento or when Kobe took over in overtime against Indiana in the finals when Shaq fouled out. Then Kobe pissed him off and he moved on (we all know that story, so I'll move on).
Was Shaq lucky to be paired with Dwyane Wade after leaving Los Angeles? Wade came into the league and instantly took Tracy McGrady's spot as the best natural shooting guard in the NBA. Wade was relentless in his attack of the basket and Shaq was still dominant, yet willing to play second fiddle. He averaged 22 and 10 his first season there and won a title in his second, basically getting his revenge against Kobe with the new Kobe. Wade helped resurrect Shaq's career after it looked like he was aging after the Lakers' Finals loss to Detroit. However, the fans got much from Shaq going to Miami too. For those who loved drama, the networks fed that hunger with Christmas day meetings, documented accounts of those Kobe-Shaq handshakes, sound bytes from each player with commentary, each completely over-blowing the situation. Most importantly, the world was exposed to the greatness that is Dwyane Wade. I remember gushing over him while he was at Marquette. Shaq moving to Miami really brought Wade's unique game to the forefront. After Wade, did anyone think Shaq's career could be resurrected again?
Maybe Steve Nash did. Maybe Shaq was lucky enough to play with one of the three best point guards of the past decade. If you don't remember, Shaq's last season in Miami (07-08) he was looking ridiculously old. He had lost 309 steps, he couldn't get on the boards and he didn't have a healthy Wade to take the heat off of him (no pun intended). Fast forward to this season and he averaged 17.8 ppg (most since the '05-'06 season) and 8.4 boards. Once Nash learned how to play with someone who clogged the middle as much as Shaq did, Shaq's numbers became surprisingly good for a 37 year-old who had been carrying over 300 pounds for almost two decades (Shaq averaged 18.7 and 7.7 during their last 25 games as they made a push for the playoffs, which seemed unfathomable just a year and a half before that). While Shaq was in Phoenix, were we ever blessed with a better year and a half chalk full of memorable Shaq quotes?
-"The Big Shaqtus."
-"Kobe, tell me how my ass taste."
-"I know for a fact that he's a master of panic, and when it gets time for his team to go in the postseason and do certain things, he will let them down because of his panic."
-"I figured out a long time ago that the reason I'm a great athlete is because I'm a great dancer."
Speaking of dancing, what about that dance performance he had before the All-Star game? And speaking of the All-Star game, what about the co-MVP performance which included that gorgeous between the legs of Dwight Howard pass to Chris Paul that turned into a give and go with a classic Shaq dunk finish.
And speaking of finishing, is Shaq lucky that he may be able to finish his career in Cleveland with the best finisher (at the basket, not at the end of the game just to be clear) in the game? Should we have expected anything different in considering how his career has gone? We may be witnessing some highly entertaining basketball, especially with the team camaraderie they already have - which brings me to where the fans may be lucky. Remember when Shaq and LeBron were battling for the best pre-game performances? Now, we have the two best in the game working together, the possibilities are endless. It's already a fun loving team, and now they're bringing in the most fun loving big man of all time. Even though this is not going to turn into a championship for Cleveland (unless they sign a bigger defensive minded swing man, in which case this team is really scary), at least we'll have a season of very entertaining Cavaliers games.
I don't know who has been luckier, but it's safe to say that Shaq and the fans alike should be excited for what next season could potentially be.