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kriD
06-11-2006, 08:53 AM
Shaq might be last of vanishing breed

By PETE ALFANO
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER

It was just like the good old days, when a cartoon preceded the main attraction at a movie theater.

An animation appeared on the video screen above center court at American Airlines Center right before tipoff of Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, and more than 19,000 fans roared in anticipation.

Instead of Bugs Bunny, though, they watched an updated version of King Kong vs. Godzilla, with Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal cast as Kong and Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki in the role of the prehistoric lizard.

The irony is that the basketball player known far and wide as “Shaq” is really supposed to be the dinosaur in the contemporary world of pro basketball.

Shaq — you may also call him “Shaq Daddy” and “the Diesel” — is the Heat’s larger-than-life center who is generally regarded as the primary obstacle between the Mavericks and their first NBA championship. Game 2 is Sunday night, with the Mavericks holding a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Pro basketball observers say that at 7-foot-1 and at least 320 pounds, Shaq may be among a vanishing breed: a low-post center who plays with his back to the basket and uses his muscle to get to the basket on offense and to punish opposing players on defense.

Case in point: The Mavericks’ Jerry Stackhouse paid a visit to the basket in Game 1, encountered Shaq and left with a gash across the bridge of his nose that required three stitches. He looked like a boxer on the wrong end of a unanimous decision.

The cut was not intentional, and Stackhouse didn’t take it that way. Driving to the basket with impunity was not always so commonplace in the NBA, not when the middle was patrolled by centers such as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and, more recently, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing.

But nowadays, it’s not unusual to find big men that fit the Nowitzki mold, relying more on finesse than brute force and able to hit jump shots from court space once reserved for the smaller guards.

Even Shaq has noticed. Of Nowitzki he says, “You know, you always think of a 7-footer just playing inside basketball. But he’s a great shooter and he’s a 7-footer.”

Shaq is generally considered to be on the downside of a remarkable career in which he teamed with Kobe Bryant to win three championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. At age 34, he knows this may be his last, best chance to win another ring and perhaps earn his place in basketball history as the best center to play the game.

“For me, personally, it would just add to my book,” he said. Then smiling, “When I hear you guys [the media] talk about me, I’m going to force you to say, ‘He was the greatest.’ ”

It’s always difficult to compare players from different eras, but Mavericks assistant coach Del Harris — who was the Lakers’ head coach when Shaq left the Orlando Magic for Los Angeles in the mid-1990s — said that the imposing but personable Shaq grades out the highest in his evaluation.

“You take the factors that make a great player, things like size, strength, speed, quickness, and you assign a number from one to 10,” Harris said. “Shaq comes out the highest.”

From his formative years with the Magic, to Los Angeles and his Hollywood breakup with Bryant and the Lakers in 2004, and now in his second season with the Heat, Shaq has remained remarkably consistent on the court while making himself a multimedia star off it.

He has written an autobiography and even a children’s book, Shaq and the Beanstalk and Other Very Tall Tales.

He has made several rap CDs, among them a debut album called Shaq Diesel, which sold more than a million copies.

And he has appeared in movies such as Kazaam, The Kid & I, Steel, and more recently, Scary Movie 4.

He has a droll sense of humor masked by a monotone delivery. But there is often mischief in his eyes.

On Wednesday, a reporter noted that the Heat’s Dwyane Wade didn’t sound healthy after being ill for the better part of a week after the Eastern Conference Finals. “At what point do you start to get concerned about how well he’s going to be for Game 1?” the reporter asked.

In his best deadpan delivery, Shaq said, “Well, Doctor, I don’t have the diagnosis on that. I’ll be sure to do a physical checkup and get back to you.”

Harris says that the Shaq he once coached has matured considerably in the way he plays nowadays.

“It’s what you expect from players as they get older, although not all of them do it,” Harris said. “Shaq is like the veteran baseball pitcher who learns he doesn’t have to strike out every hitter.”

After a regular season in which he averaged 20 points but seemed to be going through the motions at times, Shaq has had a resurgence during the playoffs. It’s as if he had been marking time, saving himself for this opportunity.

All the pieces were falling in place, especially when Heat President Pat Riley, who coached the Lakers of Magic Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar to four titles in the 1980s, returned to the bench early this season, sensing perhaps that this team had the makings of a champion.

“We had a lot of conversations, and he told me what he wanted,” Shaq says of Riley. “He’s a straight shooter, a good guy. He’s been good to me.

“He told me, ‘I’ll get you the guys to go around you.’ This is what you play for.”

Despite winning Game 1, the Mavericks are respectful and wary of Shaq. He is the third postseason demon they are trying to exorcise, after Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and former teammate Steve Nash, now with the Phoenix Suns.

Shaq scored only 17 points Thursday night but made eight of his 11 shots. Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said his strategy is basically to guard Shaq with the “whole team.”

Center Erick Dampier said the Mavericks are trying to give Shaq “different looks.”

Still, as Harris noted, “There isn’t any one thing that stops Shaq. It’s like striking out Barry Bonds. If there were one way, then everyone would be doing it.”

Mostly, Shaq stops himself, usually at the free-throw line — his Achilles’ heel.

He has made barely more than 50 percent of his free throws in his career and is struggling even more in these playoffs.

Shaq made only one of his nine free throws in Game 1 — one of 11 if you count the two do overs he got when one of the Mavericks jumped into the lane too soon.

He inspired the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy used by former Mavericks coach Don Nelson, where teams foul him in the fourth quarter hoping to close a deficit or win a close game as Shaq’s free throws clang off the rim.

“I wasn’t going to make an issue of his free-throw shooting when I had him,” Harris said. “I told him, ‘Do the best you can and just try to get better. Just give us those 30 points and 12 rebounds every game.’ ”

Harris attributes Shaq’s free-throw shooting deficiency to “mechanical problems.”

But he doesn’t feel any sympathy, certainly not now, not with so much at stake, and with him sitting on the Mavericks’ bench.

“I hope he misses the next one,” Harris said with a smile.

Shaq acknowledges that he will have to hit more free throws for the Heat to win this series. “I have to step up,” he said.

He understands that it’s tough for a dinosaur to hide.

“The burden is always going to be on me,” he said. “I’ve accepted it. I just need to play my game.

“I’m unique. There aren’t players like me [anymore].

ballin_boi
06-14-2006, 02:02 AM
last of the career under-achieving (let's face it, Shaq coulda been better still legendary but coulda been better) , over-weight big men breed? I think not!

His spirit will live on in the likes of Eddy Curry and Tractor Traylor.

spreedom
06-14-2006, 11:02 AM
His spirit will live on in the likes of Eddy Curry and Tractor Traylor.

Come on now.. Shaq is 100x the player either of them will ever be..

irontoad
06-15-2006, 12:15 AM
Shuck Faq.

birdsanctuary
06-15-2006, 02:08 PM
No, Pavel has a serious chance to develop into a Shaq like player in time. You have to remember Pavel is very raw it's like getting Shaq right out of HS, with no experience playing the game.

nashtymavsfan13
06-15-2006, 03:19 PM
Good. Ridance.

SaltwaterChaffy
06-15-2006, 03:54 PM
I don't get the Shaq hate here. In my mind, he is a top 10 player of all time.

WayOutWest
06-16-2006, 09:31 AM
I'm a huge Shaq fan, an even bigger Laker fan and I feel the same way as ballin_boi. Shaq could have gone down as the greatest center, maybe even player, of all time. You could tell Shaq let up after his first title. He came into camp out of shape but he was able to play his way back into shape. After his second title he pretty much gave up maintaining his body and game. Durring the third Laker title run is when Shaq truelly became the bull dozing brute people complain so much about. Before then Shaq was the most unique combo of size, speed and strength. Shaq also had very good foot work, floor vision and was an excellent passer, only Vlade and Sabbonis were better passers from the low post. But Shaq gave all that up and took every summer off and just got fatter and fatter at the same time he made bigger and bigger contract demands.

It really pisses me off that Shaq didn't care enough to stay in shape and stay on course for more titles and then had the nerve to force the Lakers hand for a trade. Anybody notice the LACK of drama in L.A. this year? IMO the Lakers would have won 5 strait if Shaq had the work ethic and desire that Kobe has, no way the Spurs or Pistons beat the Lakers of the first two title runs. The Lakers were built to beat teams like the Pistons and Spurs, they probably would have had problems with teams like the Suns and Mavs but that's another story.

Anyway, Shaq really squandered his place in history IMO.

Dtownsfinest
06-16-2006, 12:08 PM
Damn lol. Lot of Shaq hate. I'm just waiting for Greg Oden to come into the league.

nashtymavsfan13
06-16-2006, 07:39 PM
I hate Shaq.