Where does Shaq rank on the all-time best centers list?
Aside of the NBA finals and teams working out potential draftees in advance of the June 23rd draft, the news that rippled through the NBA world via Tout is the announced retirement of Shaquille O'Neal.
After 19 seasons and 4 rings, the Big Aristotle/Superman/Shaq Fu is calling it quits...or so he says. During the playoffs, and as the Boston Celtics were about to be eliminated by the Miami Heat, I referenced this notion on the air. It was a story shamefully lost among the headlines of the Lakers demise, and the Heat's run toward a title.
O'Neal played just 5 minutes during the playoffs and averaged just over 9 points in 37 regular season games. He battled injury in 2010-2011 and after 19 seasons of being pounded on, it's understandable that O'Neal's 7 foot, 300+ pound frame would show signs of breaking down. But poeple won't remember O'Neal for his final season with the Celtics, they will remember him as a game changer. A person who's size and strength combination had never been seen. Not a player or basketball hoop standard could slow the man down.
The question on the table is: where does Shaq rank in the annals of the greatest NBA centers of all-time? The names in most top 5 or top 10 lists will be consistent, but Shaq's place will be debated. Here's how I rank Shaq among the elitest of the elite.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon: No center in NBA history had better footwork than Hakeem. His dream shake was unique, fluid, patented and lethal. The 2-time NBA champion was a rare athlete who's soccer skills helped shape his style of play on the basketball court.
He tallied 26,946 points (21.1), grabbed 13,748 rebounds (11.1), and blocked 3,830 shots (3.1) during his 18 year career.
4. Shaquille O'Neal: There has never been a center who displayed a better combination of size, strength, mass and agility than Shaq. The a 4-time NBA champion (including 3 in a row) was a complete monster who literally changed the game. His brut force forced the NBA to re-examine the stability of hoop standards.
Over his 19 year career, Shaq scored 28,255 points (24.1), grabbed 12,921 rebounds (11.0), and blocked 2690 (2.3) shots. He won two scoring titles, and was an 8-time first-team all NBA performer. At his peak, Shaq was unguardable.
Off the court, Shaq was (and will continue to be) a playful, light hearted entertainer who allowed outsiders in via social media. Personally, I have never stood next to a more physically imposing human being than Shaquille O'Neal.
3. Bill Russell: Many will have Russell as #1 on their all-time list...hard to argue why...the man has more NBA titles (11) than he does fingers and thumbs (10 I presume). He was the one player who could slow down the imposing Wilt Chamberlain.
Russell is probably the best defender and rebounder of all-time, but his offensive numbers, while certainly commendable, are not eye-popping as compared to the others on this list.
For his career, the 12-time all-star scored 14,522 points (15.1), grabbed 21,620 rebounds (22.5), and dished out 4,100 assists (4.3) during the regular season.
Regardless of where he falls on this arbitrary list, there is arguably no more respected former player on the planet than Russell.
2. Lew Alcindor / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Another game changer. According to Wilt Chamberlain, Jabbar was the first player he struggled to guard one-on-one.
His list of personal and team accomplishments are incredible. When he retired, no one had scored more points, had blocked more shots, won more MVP awards, played longer, or was on more All-Star teams than #33.
At the age of 36, when most players have worn down or choose to retire, Jabbar was an NBA finals MVP.
His final regular season statistics are 38,387 points (24.6), 17,440 rebounds (11.2), and 5,660 assists (3.6). His patended sky hook is the type of shot legends are made of.
1. Wilt Chamberlain: Wilt was a rare athlete who possessed Olympic level talent in track and field and baskeball. Playing with his level of athleticism at 7'3" in the 1960's and 70's was completely mind-boggling. Chamberlain once stated that he could have duplicated his 100 point effort several times if called upon. I believe him.
He averaged 50 points per game while grabbing 27 rebounds per game over a full regular season. That will never happen again.
The game was effortless to him...and it wasn't just dunks. He had a fade-away, a finger roll, and hook shot that were devastating.
People will argue that Wilt's biggest downfall was his record against Bill Russell. When it came to winning titles, I will agree. Russell got the best of Wilt more often than not. BUT, Chamberlain still averaged a triple double against Russell and pulled down an unthinkable 55 reboinds against him.
His final regular season stats: He tailed 31,419 points (30.1), grabbed 23,924 rebounds (22.9), and dished out 4,643 assists (4.4). Insane.
Other notables: David Robinson, Moses Malone, Willis Reed, Patrick Ewing, George Mikan, Robert Parrish, Bill Walton, Tito Horford (kidding).