Let me just state for the record that I am a Lakers fan, I am a Kobe fan and self-appointed apologist. I am a Shaq fan and apologist but less so since he abandoned the tantalizing-tinge of Tinsel Town for the sun-soaked sands of South Beach in unceremonious fashion. Much of the NBA Finals build up will include numerous thoughts and theories on Kobe’s need to exorcise the demon of LA hitching their proverbial wagon to him instead of the former most dominant player in the league. There will, no doubt, be pontification over Kobe’s need to match O’Neal title-for-title and prove that he can win it all without the Diesel Daddy. What will be swept under the rug, is the fact that Shaq’s legacy hangs in the balance in a series he can do nothing more than stand helplessly by and hope that Kobe & Co. bail him out…AGAIN (2002 playoffs: Kobe (vs. SAN) and Horry (vs. SAC)) . This may be blasphemy to some, but consider these facts.
Shaquille O’Neal is no fan of Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy. He has publicly acknowledged as much. Stan, O’Neal’s former Miami Heat head coach, has found new life in the NBA elite, coaching one of the best young rosters in recent history which boasts the games most powerful and entertaining athlete in Dwight Howard. Freshen up on the Van Gundy O’Neal story here. The sports world has been enamored with a tall, hulking, fleet-of-foot big-man with a toothy grin and playful spirit for nearly 18 years. They are even used to seeing that guy play on the NBA’s finest stage wearing Magic Kingdom blue, white and silver. He used to wear number 32, now it’s a sleeker number 12 and, man, does he make it look good!?
Dwight Howard didn’t enter the NBA with the same brash bravado that O’Neal did in 1992 but his last three years in the league have seen him steadily emerge as a lost post headache offensively and, most prominently, a defensive nightmare. Howard’s rise has coincided with the setting of Shaquille’s 12-year reign of dominance (he’s played 17 seasons and “dominated” for about 12 of them). To add insult to injury, Dwight’s antics during the 2008 Sprite Slam Dunk competition earned him the nickname Superman, a moniker O’Neal wielded without challenge to that point. Howard stole more than a name from O’Neal with that performance, he also swiped the affections of NBA fans everywhere. Fan-voters were so entertained by Dwight’s flying feats that he received the highest number of All-Star votes of any individual player…ever (3.1 million)! Shaq has refused to acknowledge Dwight’s dominance and even his presence at times, but that was when his trademark smile and “Shaq-attack” dunk were the only things at stake. Now, Howard threatens the very legacy O’Neal worked so hard to build and that sends chills up the very long spine of the giant formerly known as Superman.
How does Dwight threaten Shaq’s legacy and what, if anything, does this have to do with Kobe saving Shaq? It’s coming! Shaq has won four championship titles now age and attrition indicate he may not win another ring. If Dwight wins this year…
-Dwight gives Orlando the ring that Shaq couldn’t deliver. Shaq took Orlando to the Finals in 1995 to get swept by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.
-Dwight wins a title without another future Hall of Famer playing a significant role. Shaq’s rings included major contributions from Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade. and Robert Horry, all likely Hall of Fame candidates.
-Dwight wins his first title at age 23, 5 years earlier than Shaq. Shaq won 4 rings in a 7 year span.
–Dwight is a fitness freak! Barring injury, it’s likely that he will play for another 15 seasons or more and win more rings. Plenty of time to eclipse Shaq’s four rings. O’Neal’s conditioning and commitment to staying in top condition has always haunted him and likely cost him a ring or two.
With these things in mind, Shaq has tweeted “thats right i am saying it today and today only, i want kobe bryant to get number 4, spread da word” I believe Shaq needs Kobe to beat this young upstart so his legacy’s only contemporary will remain Tim Duncan with his 4 titles and nothing more. At this point, O’Neal and Duncan are arguably tied as the most decorated NBA post players behind George Mikan (5), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), and Bill Russell (11). It’s early, but if Howard secures this one, he inaugurates a journey to be listted among the leagues greatest. The question is will he finish his career looking up at O’Neal or down?
Can Kobe borrow Nate Robinson’s green Krypto-nikes?