Shaq is famous for his 22 foot shoe size, epic alpha dog controversy with Kobe, entertainment personality, and dominance on the basketball court that led him to four NBA Championships. On top of his four rings, Shaq has won a MVP award, made the All-Star Game 15 times, and has three Finals MVP Awards. The guy's accolades are incredible. But at the amazing size of 7'1 and 325 pounds, could he have been even better? The answer is yes.
To understand why, we first need to look at Shaquille O'Neal's personality. This guy loves having fun! Whether that is eating as much as he wants or playing pranks on his team, nothing topped his priorities more than having a good time. For example, there are stories of a naked O'Neal sneaking up on coaches and teammates in the locker room only to grab them from behind and roll on the floor with them. If you think about it, who was to stop him from messing around? No one in the entire history of the NBA matched his size and physical dominance, so certainly no one on his team would have controlled his antics. But here is the point, if Shaq was more focused, then he could have been in better shape and played more minutes, scored more points, and grabbed more rebounds. Also, if Shaq had the mental fortitude of Michael Jordan, then he could have watched more film and destroyed his opponents even more so than he did. But it isn't fair to compare any player's mental focus to Jordan's.
Beyond his fun loving personality that got in the way of his success, Shaq's enormous size, which seems like an overwhelming positive, got in the way of his free throw shooting. His hands were so big that the basketball was smaller relative to him and thus harder to shoot. O'Neal was a career 52% foul shooter and missed around 5,000 free throws. That is not a typo. He missed 5,000 free throws and cost himself and his team thousands of career points. Free throws are a crucial part of the game and Shaquille suffered in this area. Then smart coaches invented the Hack-a-Shaq strategy to foul Shaq late in the game in hoping he would miss and they would gain offensive possessions. Hack-a-Shaq worked a lot of times and made Shaq way less effective in the 4th quarter when the game really mattered. If Shaq was able to make more free throws, wouldn't he be the greatest scorer in the history of the NBA?
In the final point, Shaq's desire to not take a pay cut while in Los Angeles with Kobe cost his legacy a couple more NBA Championships. Although he did get one NBA Title in Miami, Shaq could have stayed with Kobe Bryant and won maybe two, three, or even four more titles. O'Neal is not all to blame here, because Kobe demanded to be the number one guy for the Lakers and in doing so indirectly forced management to trade Shaq. But if those two worked out there differences then Shaq might be considered the best Laker of all-time with all that hardware.
So based on this evidence, Shaq could have been better. Yet would he have been as beloved by the fans if he was more serious and not what we know to be Shaq? This answer is an obvious no, and we should love Shaq for being one of a kind on the court and off the court.
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Image Credit Line: Lipofsky Shaquille O'Neal / CC BY 3.0 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaquille_O'Neal#mediaviewer/File:Lipofsky_Shaquille_O%27Neal.jpg