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A 19-Bullet Salute to Shaq

Posted by Justin Kubatko on June 3, 2011

As you no doubt know, Shaquille O'Neal, one of the NBA's greatest centers, announced his retirement earlier this week. In honor of Shaq, here are 19 bullet points, one for each season of his illustrious career:

  • O'Neal was named to 14 All-NBA teams, just one behind the record of 15 set by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
  • In the 1999-00 season, O'Neal became just the third player in NBA history to lead the league in both offensive and defensive win shares. The other players to accomplish this feat were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1975-76 and 1976-77) and David Robinson (1994-95).
  • Also in 1999-00, O'Neal joined Willis Reed (1969-70) and Michael Jordan (1995-96 and 1997-98) as the only NBA players to be named All Star Game MVP, MVP, and Finals MVP in the same season.
  • O'Neal was named Finals MVP three times (2000, 2001, and 2002), tying him with Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan for second place behind Michael Jordan (six times).
  • Although he was a good shot blocker, O'Neal never led the NBA in blocks, blocks per game, or block percentage.
  • Likewise, while O'Neal was considered a good rebounder, he never led the NBA in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, or total rebounds (on a total, per game, or percentage basis).
  • O'Neal is the only player in NBA history to finish first or second in the MVP voting for three different franchises (the Orlando Magic, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Miami Heat).
  • The best game of O'Neal's career probably came on March 6, 2000, when he scored a career-high 61 points and grabbed 23 rebounds versus the Clippers.
  • O'Neal made the only three-point basket of his career on February 16, 1996 versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
  • As most fans know, foul shooting was O'Neal's Achilles' heel. He missed 5317 free throws in his career, the second most in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain (5805). No other players are even close to Chamberlain and O'Neal: Karl Malone is third on the list with 3401 misses.
  • O'Neal's best performance from the charity stripe came on April 17, 2001, when he went 13-13 versus Denver. Earlier that season, O'Neal had perhaps his worst performance from the line, missing all 11 of his free throws on December 8, 2000 versus Seattle.
  • On the other hand, O'Neal led the league in field goal percentage 10 times, an NBA record. In fact, O'Neal's career-low field goal percentage was 55.7 percent, a figure that would have been good for the league lead in 22 of the NBA's 65 seasons.
  • O'Neal attempted at least one field goal in 1206 of his 1207 of his regular season games. The exception occurred on February 22, 2005 versus Chicago, when he left the game in the first two minutes with a knee injury.
  • O'Neal led the league in turnovers as a rookie in 1992-93, but after that he never even finished in the top 10 in turnovers in any other season. No other player in NBA history has led the league in turnovers one season and had zero other finishes in the top 10.
  • O'Neal averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game 12 times*, tying him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time lead. (*Seasons in which he qualified for the scoring and/or rebounding titles.)
  • O'Neal finished his career with a total of 605 "20/10" games. He put up his first "20/10" game on November 7, 1992 versus Washington, the second game of his NBA career. O'Neal's last "20/10" game came on November 24, 2010 versus New Jersey.
  • From May 31, 2002 through April 17, 2004, O'Neal registered 19 consecutive "20/10" playoff games, the longest streak in the last 21 years.
  • In the playoffs, O'Neal averaged 24.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, both improvements over his regular season averages of 23.7 and 10.9, respectively.
  • O'Neal led the NBA in playoff win shares four times, third on the all-time list behind Michael Jordan (seven times) and Bill Russell (five times).


63 Responses to “A 19-Bullet Salute to Shaq”

  1. Gabe Says:

    I think Willis Reed achieved the trifecta in 69-70, the year the Knicks won their first championship, rather than 68-69.

  2. Justin Kubatko Says:

    Gabe wrote:

    I think Willis Reed achieved the trifecta in 69-70, the year the Knicks won their first championship, rather than 68-69.

    Oops, you're right. I made the correction.

  3. Jason J Says:

    As a rookie Shaq averaged 13.9 boards / game which would have led the league if Rodman wasn't bringing down a ridiculous 18 boards / game, and he averaged a terrific 3.5 blocks / game which would have led the league if Hakeem had not been swatting a ludicrous 4.2 blocks / game. Not too shabby!

    On my blog I made the case that Shaq was the best center of the last 25 years. There are arguments to be made for Timmy, Dream, and the Admiral. What do you think?

  4. Jacob Says:

    There's no question that Shaq is the beste center of the last 25 years. I'm actually surprised that most pundits place him behind Russell and Wilt; I'd say he's VERY close to both, once you factor in the difficulty of winning titles in a 29-team league.

  5. Chronz Says:

    Need I remind you all that BIGMEN are measured by playoff wins, and FYI in the 1998 playoffs, Greg Ostertag eliminated Hakeem Olajuwon (With Barkley and Drexler), defeated David Robinson (With Tim Duncan), and blew by Shaq (+Kobe) in the WC Finals. He lost only to Jordan(+their generic white center) in the Final round.

  6. huevonkiller Says:

    Shaq is the best center, and he played in a non-segregated era which means more to me. The demographics are completely different.

    I think Bill Russell was a great player in his time, but not all-time. Wilt was cool and everything but the level of competition of the 80's and now are superior.

  7. sean Says:

    I am partial to Hakeem Olajuwon. I liked his polished offensive moves and his defense.

  8. Walt Says:

    Olajuwon is without question the best center of the past 25 years. Top ten all time in points,rebounds, steals (read that again) & blocks. In the sixty plus years of the NBA how many championship teams had just one hall of fame player on the roster? Hint, you dont need more then one hand. Olajuwon is one of them (back to back no less) & he defeated Ewing, Robinson & O'Neal on his way.

  9. HY Says:

    My favorite center of all time is The Dream, but I don't think he is better than Shaq. Yes, Dream was impressive in playoffs when Rockets won 2 straight championships but Shaq was great when Lakers won it all, too. Regular season wise, Shaq is absolutely better than Hakeem. And I know it's a stupid thing to say (and I really hate this argument), but for the sake of rings Shaq has 4, Hakeem 2.

    If you consider only regular seasons, then Admiral is comparable to Shaq. But Admiral failed miserably in PO, so I'd put Shaq over him as well.

    In my opinion, there is only one center who had absolutely better career than Shaq in the history of NBA. His name is Kareem Abdul Jabbar. I know many fans put Chamberlain (and even Russell) over Shaq, but considering the level of competition, one can argue Shaq is better than them. At least it's debatable.

  10. cort Says:

    olajuwon no doubt better than shaq, whose skill set was limited to within 5 feet of the basket and simply bullying defenders. robinson was overrated and very un-clutch - would have gone without a title had SA not lucked out and gotten duncan to team with him in the final years of his career.
    duncan really wasnt a center.
    hakeem kept getting better well into his 30s and abused shaq in the 1995 finals. orlando folded and got swept that year by the rockets, setting a disturbing trend of rolling over by shaq-led teams once they got down in the playoffs.
    shaq probably got swept out of the playoffs - and badly - more than any big star.
    Shaq swept:
    Orlando swept in 94 1st round by Indiana, 3-0.
    Orlando swept in 95 Finals by Houston, 4-0.
    Orlando swept in 96 ECF by Chicago, 4-0.
    LA swept in 98 WCF by Utah, 4-0.
    LA swept in 99 WCSF by SA, 4-0
    Miami swept by Chi in 1st round, 4-0.

    Also lost in 97 WCSF to Utah, 4-1 & in NBA Finals to Det in 2004, 4-1 with LA.
    Lost 4-1 in WC 1st round to SA with Phoenix.

    Orlando in 1993 and Phoenix in 2009 did not make playoffs. In 2010 with Cle and 2011 with Boston Shaq was basically a non-factor.

    Shaq wasnt as good a shooter or defender as Ewing. At their peaks, Wilt, Russell, Jabbar and Walton were all clearly better all-around. Shaq never even learned how to defend screen and roll and was a poor foul shooter whom teams were afraid to use in the clutch at the end of games on offense. That is HUGE. How valuable can you be when your own team is afraid to give you theball down low at the end of clos egames?
    I would rather have Reed, Cowens, and maybe even Moses Malone in their primes than Shaq. He got tons of preferential refereeing treatment and played in an era with few good big centers, and ran roughshod over them phsyically. Sabonis was IMMEASURABLY more skilled than Shaq even when he came to the NBA in his 30s with two repaired Achilles, bad knees and a lot of extra weight. Sabonis could shoot and pass better than most guards, and was a fine rebounder. WHen he was younger and not hurt, he ran the floor and jumped very well. He was the bets center in the world in the late 1980s, especially with Ewing and Hakeem still developing and guys like Moses and Kareem slowing down quite a bit.
    Because of the scarcity of good centers he probably is the best other than Hakeen of the last 20 years. Shaq was entertaining and fun, the media and TV networks loved him, but let's not make him better than he was because he is likeable. He basically he is a teenager, a bigger than life cartoon character who needs constant attention. His feuds with star guards almost wherever he went until the end of his career show he could be very divisive and didnt like to share the spotlight, and he burned bridges most places he left. The last several seasons he shamelessly chased rings in a feebly selfish attempt to make his legacy greater, but instead made teams in Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston worse or at best, no better.
    The 2002 title in LA was tainted by the bad calls in WCF vs. the Kings, and he was merely a complementary player in 2006 when the refs and Wade handed Miami the title.
    He IS the all-time leader in nicknames given to himself. Even today if you saw him clowning around in the background as media people eulogized him, one could see how immature and in need of constant attention he is. Right now he is saying all the right things in order to get good ink and potential NBA jobs or announcing positions down the line.
    Sorry, he just wasnt that good once you look at his game with a critical eye. Good rebounder, could block shots when he wanted to, ran floor well when he was young but spent the last third-plus of his career battling weight issues and poor conditioning problems, as well as some of his teammates.

  11. cort Says:

    to clarify, i meant Shaq was probably the best NBA center of the last 20 years behind Hakeem, due mainly to a scarcity of good big men.

  12. Ricardo Says:

    I would be happy to elaborate if asked, but though it is close I prefer Hakeem to Shaq.

    Shaq's career looks better than Hakeem's for two reasons: 1) Shaq's front offices surrounded Shaq with better teammates than Hakeem's front offices did, and 2) Shaq towered above his underwhelming peer group, while Hakeem was one great center among a few born from 1960-65.

  13. Red Says:

    Cort, I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of Shaq. In my opinion he is the least skilled "great player" in NBA history. He couldn't make a jump shot to save his life, he killed his teams with his atrocious free throw shooting, he was devoid of moves off the dribble, he couldn't run the floor, and his game was completely dependent on his teammates feeding him the ball because he couldn't create anything on his own.

    Shaq's greatest asset was his size, which is NOT a skill. He simply used his mass to bulldoze his opponents, and the refs had no idea how to officiate him, so he made a lot of dubious trips to the free throw line (which he usually missed). Watching him play reminded me of a 6'6" middle schooler playing against his normal-sized peers and destroying them simply because he was so much bigger.

    In terms of actual basketball skill, Hakeem, Robinson, and even Ewing ran circles around the Diesel. Personally, I did not enjoy watching Shaq play, and I'm glad he finally called it quits.

  14. sean Says:

    I think refs knew how they should have officiated Shaq. They suddenly knew when they league didn't need him to be a torchbearer. His arrival coincided with Jordan's 1st departure and Bird's retirement and soon after Magic's retirement------and there is this stinking suspicion that David Stern, ever the promoter, consciously decided how Shaq was going to be officiated and that it was going to be done in a manner to help Shaq out.

    It's a shame because I DO think Shaq was a tremendous force who could have played better 'within the REAL rules' when he was healthy to a degree greater than perhaps his biggest detractors intimate. BUT, they let him smash into everyone and it muddied the waters on how he could be judged, IMO.

    I wish they didn't do that. In the end, it was actually a disservice to him.

  15. huevonkiller Says:

    Shaq has taken care of Tim Duncan before, let's not act like he can't score or defend them.

    Ricardo Hakeem did not defend well in that amazing run against top Big Men in 1995. His defensive rating was atrocious, he played great though but he did have problems stopping his peers.


    Who cares if you don't like watching him play? The facts are this place says Shaq is the better player, or at least comparable with no skills. It doesn't matter that Ewing is more skilled Shaq is better. Steve Nash has a lot more skills than many Superstars, but he's not athletic. That's all the difference.

    And he played in a zone era, and still dominated.

  16. Jimbo Says:

    Steve Nash definitely is very athletic, just not to the same extent as some of the ridiculous athletes the NBA has to offer.

  17. Travis Says:

    If Steve Nash is not as athletic as many of his NBA counterparts, then it is perfectly fair to say he is not athletic. We aren't comparing players to the average person, we're comparing them to his peers.

    The insinuation that Hakeem was better than Shaq that I'm seeing and hearing in various internet and media outlets is nearly imbecilic. As great as his footwork was, neither in his entire career nor at his peak was he anywhere near Shaq's level of efficiency and dominance. He comes close in volume, and even there he comes short. In fact, Hakeem was kind of average offensively. In a couple seasons (89-90 and 96-97), he was below league average in ORtg. He put up all of two seasons in which he had a greater Win Shares per 48 than Shaq's career average. Hakeem had one season with an ORtg greater than 113, Shaq had eight. Olajuwon had three seasons with a WS/48 of over .200, with a peak of .234, Shaq had six seasons with a higher WS/48 than .234, with nine seasons total over .200. Hakeem had one season with a PER of 27.0, Shaq had ten such seasons, including a run of seven consecutive seasons. Oh, and he had a three year run of 30+ PER seasons.

    The idea that Hakeem is better than Shaq is nearly as ridiculous as saying Kobe is equal to MJ.

  18. Jimbo Says:

    I agree that Shaq was far greater than Hakeem. I think alot of Shaq's greatness was due to his just being so big and powerful, and it's tempting to hold that against him because we don't find that as impressive a ball handling/passing/shooting skills.

    I'm new here by the way. Have been a semi regular

  19. Jimbo Says:

    at but just recently decided it might be fun to learn what advanced stats are used for basketball and whether they confirm/deny my media and gut instinct estimates of how good players really are. Should be fun.

  20. Ricardo Says:

    In their plateau seasons (ages 23-34), Shaq's WS were 2% better than Hakeem's. Two. Per. Cent.

  21. Heretic Says:

    Let's compare Shaq's and Hakeem's careers:

    So it is true that Shaq was a much better player, but that only holds for the regular season. When it comes to the playoffs (which are much more important, at least in my book) both greats are basically even.

    Additionally, two things work in Shaq's favor - weaker opponents and better teammates. The former is obvious when we notice that Shaq during his prime (2000-2002) had basically no good rivals, with maybe an old Mutombo being the (weak) exception. Hakeem, on the other hand, had Robinson and Ewing basically throughout his entire career, and also had to go against the likes of Kareem, Moses Malone, Parish, Shaq and Mourning for a chunk of his career (not to mention many centers that were not great but respectable).
    Having better teammates, in turn, naturally helped Shaq not only to win more titles, but also have more win shares.

    We can look at how both greats did when they went against each other:

    At first it seems that Shaq dominated, but if we look only at years 1993-1997 (when both players were pretty much at their best) Hakeem may have been slightly better in fact.

    To summarize: I think it is debatable whether Shaq or Hakeem was better, but it looks like a tie.

  22. DJ Says:

    Hakeem was the better defensive player, and when he had it going on offense he was awesome--skillful, agile, quick, powerful. In his best games, I think the Dream might have reached levels that Shaq never did, dominating at both ends. Shaq never looked that good or that skillful.

    But Shaq was a beast on offense, pretty much always. Not as pretty, but pretty much unstoppable. He played physical in a league where bruising D was the name of the game; you can hardly fault him for pounding away on O. And it's not as if he sucked on D. If I'm picking between the two, I take Shaq because two percent better is just plain better.

    I generally trust advanced stats, but given the evolution of the game and the players and the differences between playing in a 30-team league and a smaller league 17 teams or less, I'd say Shaq might be the best center ever. Better than Russell almost certainly (whose advanced stats are inferior anyway). Probably better than Wilt. Maybe even better than Kareem.

    And I've almost always rooted against his teams.

  23. GordonX Says:

    To Nr.13:

    I think you are being unfair to Shaq. Your description fits the old Shaq of the last few years. But a Shaq in his prime had rather good footwork, good positioning, was a good passer for a center and he could run the floor very well. There were even instances where he led a fast break and threw alley-oops to Kobe. In terms of skill, at least on the offensive end, a young Shaq is far ahead compared to Howard for example.

  24. Anon Says:

    I've watched Hakeem play, and he is a great player and also a great human being from all accounts.

    He isn't a better basketball player than Shaq. People often apply the "Kobe Bryant" effect to Hakeem - they're more impressed by his moves on TV than his actual production.

  25. Ricardo Says:

    So isn't there a "Kobe Bryant" effect with Shaq? I think there are two:

    1) Some people are in awe of his incredible strength, and are unduly impressed by his style of play and
    2) Far more importantly, people almost always gloss over the quality of rosters Shaq has enjoyed, much greater than Hakeem had to work with.

    Yes, Kobe's moves don't match his production, but it's still hellacious prodcution that Shaq had alongside him for six seasons. Hakeem didn't get six elite seasons from teammates throughout his whole career.

    From 1995-2006 (ages 23-34), Shaq had all-NBA teammates in 10 of those twelve seasons. From 1986-1997 (ages 23-34), Hakeem had one in twelve, though Ralph Sampson probably would have been All-NBA third team in 1986 if the third team existed then. Where I'm from, 10>2.

  26. Joe G. Says:

    While the debate between Shaq and The Dream is a good one--I'll personally take Hakeem by a nose; while I believe Shaq was more dominate, Hakeem was slightly better all around in my opinion--the debate between Shaq and Wilt is just silly. Many of you guys are making the point that the leagues Wilt played in had half as many teams as the leagues of Shaq's era but this doesn't mean Wilt had it any easier--far from it actually. There were only half the teams for all the talent to go to. Imagine if all the players in the league today were put into a pot and then redrafted into just 16 teams, those 16 teams would be loaded with talent! Now I do believe todays players are overall more athletic and skilled than the players of Wilt's time, but nevertheless Shaq never had a 50 ppg-25 rpg season.
    You can argue Shaq is the greatest center to play in the last 25 years but not all time.

  27. coolstar Says:

    Cort: I agree completely with your great analysis of Shaq with one exception: I think you over-rated his maturity. He's mike like a 6 year old than a teenager!

  28. coolstar Says:

    oops, that should have been "more" than "mike" and it was NOT a freudian slip!

  29. sean Says:

    I scratch my head at the 'Wilt played in a league that has less teams so it was easier for him' argument, too. The league's best players were consolidated on fewer teams. I would think that makes it harder to dominate.

  30. sean Says:

    About Wilt's 50 ppg season--I THINK it was achieved with a 12 foot-wide lane. Imagine Shaq on a 12 foot-wide lane. Though, perhaps Shaq had a defacto 12-foot wide lane as for a while there, the league permitted him to slam himself through defenders so he could get close enough to dunk. Tough to draw a conclusion.

  31. huevonkiller Says:


    Yeah Shaq has 8099 minutes played, Hakeem has 5700.

    Tim Duncan might be even better than Hakeem, and Shaq can handle him just fine. Hakeem has never defended Shaq well on a consistent basis.

  32. huevonkiller Says:

    #30 The League was mostly white back then, now it isn't. It is completely different demographically and it does matter. Segregation changes things.

    And Hakeem is not all around better than Shaq, Shaq has a higher rebound rate and their defensive ratings are almost the same. Shaq has just done it over a longer period of time and against the greatest Power Forward ever. Duncan is better than Robinson or Malone, and Shaq can handle KG too.

  33. HY Says:


    Totally agree. Hakeem was more fun to watch for many fans(including myself), but that doesn't mean he was better than Shaq.

    I agree there are clear flaws on Shaq's game (Can't knock down the mid range jumper, terrible free throw shooter) but guess what? He could dominate the game because his other skills are so great. Therefore He could use tons of possession with super-high efficiency. Hakeem doesn't have clear weakness on his game but he doesn't have super-great ability like Shaq to dominate the offensive side of the game. Hakeem was a better defender though.

    And don't say Shaq could dominate the game because of the lack of competition. Early in his career, Shaq had to face great centers a lot but nevertheless he dominated. Later years, he had to fight against the zone. No problem for him.

  34. HY Says:


    His biggest asset was size, yes I agree. But utilizing his size is a skill, it's not a given. There has been some players in NBA who can match Shaq's size. Guess what? No one could produce like Shaq. Why? Because they don't have proper 'skills', like Shaq.

    Saying Shaq could dominate the game just because he was big is an insult to other NBA players.

  35. sean Says:

    @ #32...

    Blacks weren't allowed to play when Wilt played?

  36. Anon Says:

    "Some people are in awe of his incredible strength, and are unduly impressed by his style of play..."
    Hakeem "Dream Shakes" D-Rob (who I also think is better than Hakeem, but that's another topic) while Shaq back down a defender and dunks over him. Which player is more "impressive" to the casual fan from an aesthetics standpoint?

    "Far more importantly, people almost always gloss over the quality of rosters Shaq has enjoyed, much greater than Hakeem had to work with."

    Wasn't looking at the rosters of the teams, though. Just the individual players and their production.

  37. P Middy Says:

    Though he was not the offensive juggernaut that Shaq was, Hakeem was clearly the better defender. Plus when they went head to head in 95 the results favor Hakeem (30+ in every game of the Finals). Of course, Hakeem didn't bust out 3 consecutive Finals MVPs like Shaq did - that Lakers 3peat was perhaps the most dominant Finals performance I ever saw . . . including Jordan.

    I'm putting Hakeem slightly ahead because of the FT% and defensive ability, but I am REALLY picking nits. Shaq was simply an unstoppable force and in reality, I am discrediting him with not reaching a perceived potential. His actual stats and accomplishments say plenty.

    Besides, they had to build new stanchions because of the Big Retiree. You know, after they had already made them shatter "proof."

  38. huevonkiller Says:


    Well you completely missed the point.

    Partial discrimination is still segregation dude, look up the demographic percentages then and now.

  39. Heretic Says:


    I don't know on what basis you claim that Hakeem never defended Shaq well. Also, I don't know why you give Shaq credit against Duncan. It was Robinson and Malik Rose that defended Shaq while Duncan was guarded mostly by Robert Horry. See 2003 game 6 for example:

  40. sean Says:

    @ #38... Who were the basketball players that weren't allowed to play in the NBA that were so good that they should have been playing against Wilt---but weren't allowed?

    If you looked at the demographic percentages for MLB now VS, oh, I dunno-----say 30-35 years ago would THEY look different? LESS blacks play now. Blacks aren't absent from MLB because of anything barring them today, yet they just don't play the game in as great a number as before. Are today's major leaguers enjoying an unfair 'break'? Or should we just worry about the people who DO play as everyone is ALLOWED to play? I'm going to opt for the latter.

    For me to put proper weight on segregation affecting Wilt's NBA (and he averaged 50 ppg 12? years after blacks began playing in the NBA), I'd have to know WHO was being kept from facing him.

    Like in MLB before Jackie Robinson, we have an idea regarding WHO wasn't being allowed to play. Gibson, Paige, etc. I'd say 12 years after Doby and Robinson broke through, however, that playing the segregation card would be a little limp.

    Perhaps 12 years after blacks broke through to the NBA, the segregation argument is a little limp, too. JMO.

    Also, are there any other demographics to be accounted for besides blacks that should be factored in when juudging the relative 'legitimacy' of a league? Has there been an influx of other 'groups' AFTER Magic, Michael and Larry began their careers? China? Europe? Do we properly account for that in our grades of MJ, Bird and Magic? Or don't we care? Do we only care about compromising the old timers' legacies with selective 'yeah, but's'?

    Everyone was allowed to play when Wilt played. Weren't they? What is Wilt supposed to do about people who were allowed to play, but didn't? Are Jordan's seasons prior to the influx of Asian and European players in the NBA downgraded? They shouldn't be. Should they?

  41. sean Says:

    When did the NBA become legitimate? If it wasn't when Wilt played---then when? If it wasn't 12 years after the color barrier was broke---then when? It's a legitimate question if we are going to illegitimize Wilt's career. And Russell's.

    When did MLB become legitimate? 7 years after the color barrier was broken (1954), Willie Mays was the leader in NL WAR 11 seasons out of 13 through 1966. Ernie Banks led 1 year, and Duke Snider the other. Is Willie Mays 'lucky' to have played in a 'partial segregation' era?

  42. TD Says:

    When David Robinson came out, he was considered a freak of nature and a once in a lifetime product (runs like a guard/small forward, jumps like a high jumper) … until Shaq came out. Young Shaq was a freak of nature (strength, speed, agility)… Kevin Duckworth and some other contemporary centers had Shaq’s size and strength (Shaq has even commented on how strong K-Duck was) but not his quickness or athleticism.

    Olajuwon was definitely much more skilled than Shaq (and my favorite center of the last 25 years) but Shaq was the most dominant center since Wilt. Other than the Hack-of-Shaq, he was completely unstoppable one on one by even the best at his position.

    He could handle the ball above average for a center and make the good pass. Shaq was no slouch in defense either (top 5 - 10 in blocks, top 5 in rebounds during the Dennis Rodman era).

    When you rate who is better, what are you talking about? Skill (Kareem, Olajuwon) or Dominance (Wilt, Shaq). Shaq was as dominating as any player I’ve ever seen in the post. Even if you don’t like him, ask yourself would you rather have Shaq for the first 10 years of his career or any other post player for the first 10 years of their career… now imagine if you don’t pick Shaq, your team has to go up vs. a young Shaq. Stats aside, Shaq was a bucking bronco when all others were show horses.

    BTW, sorry for the long post.

  43. TD Says:

    @36: Did you really say D-Rob was better than Olajuwon? Yeah, I think that’s a misstatement in terms of skill or dominance. Check out for a small taste. D-Rob was definitely one of the most athletic centers of all time but it was not overpowering athleticism like Shaq's. Those with top skills (Olajuwon, Ewing, etc.) could neutralize his athleticism (something they couldn’t do vs. Shaq).

    On a different note, one thing that I think that gets loss in the comparison between generations is that if you took a player from a prior generation and put them in this one, they would have the benefits of today's advanced training methods and single minded focus on sports. So while a player like Wilt wouldn’t average 50 pts, 25 rbs in this age he’d be able to take his natural talents and size (7'1", 275 lbs; 35 - 40 lbs heavier than D-Rob and Dwight Howard btw) and benefit from today's conditioning and strength training programs. At the end of the day, he may look more like a bigger Dwight Howard than the slender frame he had.

    I believe that is true of baseball and football too. If you took the natural talent of Babe Ruth and put him in a modern training program and developed him since childhood like star kids are done today, he’d probably be a great player in this era also.

  44. Neil Paine Says:

    We've been through the Robinson-vs-Olajuwon debate before. Olajuwon was better in a very high-profile instance against D-Rob, but in their careers he was not demonstrably better head-to-head:

    Add to that the fact that Robinson was better vs. just about every other center in the league, and it calls into question what it truly means for one player to be "better" than another. If rock loses to paper but beats scissors (and various other household items who also beat paper), is paper really better than rock?

  45. TD Says:

    I have to admit that while I watched Olajuwon during the regular season and playoffs, I only really saw Robinson during the playoffs or if it was a particularly interesting regular season matchup.

    Considering what I watched, it is possible that what I saw skewed towards Robinson's less than dominant games.

    But isn't performance during crunch time vs. the best competition the key indicator. Career playoff stats: Olajuwon is 25.9 pts, 11.2 rb, 2.3 ast, 52.8% fg. vs. Robinson's 18.1 pts, 10.6 rb, 2.3 ast, 47.9 fg%.

    I'm not saying he's not a top all-time center-- Robinson dominated the less-than-elite competition and went back in forth with upper level centers (sometimes his athleticism won out; sometimes their skill did) but his numbers and anecdotal performances don't compare to the Dreams. Especially during playoff pushes (without Timmy D we would have been talking about him as the great underperformer).

    D-Rob is one of the great centers of all time but he is one one level below the greatest of all time (Wilt, Shaq, Mikan, Russell, Kareem, Olajuwon). D-Rob is in that next groupings of centers: Ewing, Moses, Mutombo, Mourning etc. His inability to shoulder the load and dominate in crunch time is important to any rating.

  46. Heretic Says:

    Robinson was obviously better than Hakeem in the regular season. In fact, he was one of the greatest regular season performers in history (only Jordan, Wilt and Lebron are ahead). But he did not carry his amazing performances into the playoffs. Check out his 1990-1996 numbers (when he didn't have Duncan with him):

    From 0.260 ws/48 in the regular season to 0.189 ws/48 in the playoffs. Quite a fall from grace if you ask me, even if that 0.189 is still very good.

  47. sean Says:

    @ #44... Yeah, Neil... I'm in with the rock/ scissors/ paper analogy. Sometimes these matchups are like prize fights. As they say: 'styles make fights'. Makes for great debate/ discussion.

  48. HY Says:


    Like Heretic said, Admiral was clearly a better player than Hakeem in the regular season throughout their careers. In fact, the gap is quite significant in terms of advanced metrics. And we all know they both had no support(I'm talking about pre-Duncan era), and both were excellent defensive players.

    In the playoffs, Hakeem was better than Robinson. Yes, you can say it is a higher stage so it should count more. But one can also argue whether those additional 100~140 games were big enough to overcome the deficit on more than 1000 regular season games between them.

    I personally cannot choose the side because both make sense. But I wholeheartedly disagree on your claim "D-Rob is one of the great centers of all time but he is one one level below the greatest of all time. D-Rob is in that next groupings of centers." He certainly belongs to the very best of all time, even though he might be an inferior player to Hakeem. (or not)

  49. sean Says:

    Just keeping with the 'but they didn't have to play against so-and-so in that era' sub-topic... I'm always reminded of Bob Kurland>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Robert Albert "Bob" Kurland (born December 23, 1924 in St. Louis, Missouri) was a 7-foot basketball center, who played for Henry Iba's Oklahoma A & M Aggies (now Oklahoma State Cowboys) basketball team. He was an integral part of the team's consecutive NCAA titles in 1945 and 1946.

    Because Kurland often leaped above the rim to grab opponents' shots, the NCAA banned defensive goaltending in 1945.[1] Kurland was also the first person to regularly dunk during games.[2] The rivalry between him and De Paul's George Mikan would foreshadow similar matchups, especially those of "Big Men".

    Kurland never played professional basketball, passing up the newly formed Basketball Association of America and National Basketball League (which would merge, forming the National Basketball Association), to play for Phillips Petroleum's A.A.U. team, the 66 Oilers. Kurland played for six years with Phillips, winning three championships. Since he never played professionally, he was eligible as an amateur for the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.

    Kurland was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961.

    He became an insurance salesman (actually worked for Phillips Petroleum) after his basketball days.>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Kurland would have been 26 when blacks were 1st permitted to play in the NBA----yet Kurland----who was white NEVER played pro ball, instead opting for a career in insurance sales... INCONCEIVABLE today!

    Pro ball back then just wasn't that lucrative. Guys who could play ball either played or they didn't. Whether they were white OR black OR whatever-----at least after 1950.

    Maybe today, guys who would be great baseball players DON'T PLAY MLB. Do we ever think about adjusting the legitimacy of the competition MLB players experience today because MAYBE some of the best players aren't playing baseball?

    I think you just have to judge a guy against his competition, as long as nobody is literally barred from playing.

    For every argument made against Russell & Wilt because they 'didn't play anybody'----is at least another argument that they were simply ahead of their time(s), which is a different type of dominance. Comparing across eras is dicey. I don't downgrade Russell or Wilt. I kinda just leave them alone in their own wing of the Pantheon.

  50. Neil Paine Says:

    Not really relevant to the argument, but it's funny you should mention Kurland... I played high school ball with his grandson -- no joke. He was roughly as good as me, which is to say decidedly not NBA (or even NCAA) caliber. But his grandfather was definitely one of the underappreciated greats of early basketball. Met him once; now that's a big man.

  51. sean Says:

    @ #50... Neil that is AWESOME. Was the grandson tall?

  52. Neil Paine Says:

    Not especially by basketball standards. I'm about 6'3½", so he was probably no more than 6'4". His dad (Bob Kurland's son) was about 6'5" or 6'6", so there's your regression to the mean at work.

  53. sean Says:

    Ah, man... if I was Kurland's son or grandson, I'd be HOPING for some genetic advantages. I guess some kids never do grow up to finally beat their dads in pickup games in the driveway.

  54. sean Says:

    If you looked at the demographic percentages for MLB now VS, oh, I dunno-----say 30-35 years ago would THEY look different? LESS blacks play now. Blacks aren't absent from MLB because of anything barring them today, yet they just don't play the game in as great a number as before. Are today's major leaguers enjoying an unfair 'break'? Or should we just worry about the people who DO play as everyone is ALLOWED to play? I'm going to opt for the latter. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    The figures: In 2011, it's down to 8.5% blacks playing MLB, down from 10% last year or the year before. In 1997 (I think) the figure was 17%. Do we have to handicap the results of MLB this year based on these figures---even though blacks are allowed to play?

    In the NBA, ever since they found Olajuwon in Lagos, Nigeria, scouts have been looking for the next Akeem. It's been nearly 30 years------and they still haven't found him... and I gotta believe that at this point, there isn't a rock in any corner of the globe that hasn't been turned over looking for him.

    Maybe the imagined pool of untapped talent NOT playing in the NBA has been overestimated greatly... in this era and in eras past.

  55. huevonkiller Says:


    On this basis buddy:

    Shaq is better than Hakeem.

    As for the other point:

    So Duncan was not willing to guard him, and acknowledged Robinson as a better defender? Not a great defense. Or Duncan was willing to admit he has a bad matchup against Shaq?

    Shaq handles Tim Duncan just fine.

  56. huevonkiller Says:

    Sean first of all what the heck do I care about baseball? I don't like baseball and it is a less athletic sport, LOL.

    Less athletic players can dominate baseball, I'm talking about basketball a much more dynamic sport without fat pitchers that stand on a mound waiting for a guy standing around with a bat.

    Yes there are more HISPANIC players in baseball anyway lol. Hispanic players are the best players in the sport, and they dominate internationally anyway. Nice job messing that up.
    What is it with you and how you define segregation to just one race, and only if 100% of that race is barred from the sport?

    The facts are that the league is mostly NOT white now, in an integrated era. Name the top 20 players in the history of the league? Oh that's what I thought dude.

    African Americans are embraced now, they didn't even have the civil rights act when Wilt started playing. You don't have one statistic on your side you are a biased Celtics fan.

  57. huevonkiller Says:

    #41 Lol dude the NBA became legitimate around the time most of the country became reasonable. AKA after the civil rights movement, Jordan's era has the right demographics deal with it.

  58. Bill Says:

    @ 54

    Well, they turned up Mutombo and Yao. It's hard to say what Yao could have been if he weren't Bill Walton's illegimate son, and Mutombo was one of the greatest defensive players of the modern era.

  59. huevonkiller Says:

    Oh I will admit, I do watch the Marlins every once in a while. :]

  60. Alex Says:

    Haven't checked their stats against Robinson/Ewing/Mutombo, but am inclined to agree that the debate of the best center of the last 20-25 comes down to Olajuwon and O'Neal.

    Have to disagree; Olajuwon's stats look slightly better in career stats. His skill lot more fun to watch than Shaq's size.

    @ #21:

    Any clear advantage O'Neal has (FG%) largely due to his size, and shooting almost exclusively from up close after having the ball passed to him. Olajuwon had much better range.

    Also, Olajuwon almost tripled O'Neal's steals (total or avg), and quite a few more blocks as well.

    @ #55:

    head-to-heads in this instance can be deceptive.

    One, Hakeem, is 9 years older and 10 of those 20 reg. season meetings came after Hakeem turned 35.

    Two, in the link you give, Shaq leads 14-6 life-time, but it doesn't include any playoff games: 1995 HOU 4-0 ORL, and 1999 LAL 3-1 HOU (in 1999, Hakeem was 36).

    So reg sesaon: Shaq 14-6; in playoff, Hakeem 5-3; overall, Shaq 17-11.

    Half their meetings (reg or playoffs), are after Hakeem turns 35.

  61. Jason J Says:

    I'm proud to have helped instigate this bickering.

  62. sean Says:

    Sean first of all what the heck do I care about baseball? I don't like baseball and it is a less athletic sport, LOL.

    The facts are that the league is mostly NOT white now, in an integrated era. Name the top 20 players in the history of the league? Oh that's what I thought dude.

    African Americans are embraced now, they didn't even have the civil rights act when Wilt started playing. You don't have one statistic on your side you are a biased Celtics fan.

    Lol dude the NBA became legitimate around the time most of the country became reasonable. AKA after the civil rights movement, Jordan's era has the right demographics deal with it.>>>>>>>>>

    Hey, nobody cares if you like baseball.

    So, because baseball is dominated less so by athletic ability---it doesn't matter whether blacks were playing? OK.

    And your beef with the pre-Civil Rights Movement NBA is really that it wasn't as athletic, as say, Jordan's era which started in 1985 (and had the 'right demographics' even though it was pre-European & Asian invasion)? OK.

    The Elo player rater on this site listed 4 white players among the top 20 players ever. Let's say that's reasonable (I don't really care)------that doesn't mean that the best basketball players in the world in the 50s and 60s had to be 80% non-white for it to be a legitimate league.

    Blacks were allowed to play starting in 1950. Was there some seismic shift in blacks invading the NBA right after the Civil Rights Act was signed? Really?

    When did the ABA begin? Was it during the Civil Rights Movement? Did the splitting of the talent between leagues compromise the strength of the NBA------even though 'the country became reasonable' with the Civil Rights Movement? (Nevermind that blacks----and you ARE talking about blacks----were allowed to play since 1950 in the NBA). In other words, was the NBA legit following the Civil Rights Movement... or did it still have to wait until after the ABA/ NBA merger?

    Hey, here's a statistic 'on my side': the number of players you named that should have been playing against Wilt but were barred from the NBA because they were black is ZERO.

    Superb job by you with that one, btw.

    Also, seeing as the NBA is more athletic now than it was in 1985, is it just a matter of time before Jordan is viewed as playing in a relatively athletically compromised NBA-------thus eventually being thrown in the bin of the 'not all-time greats'? Like Russell?

    You biased Celtic-hater, you. Lol.

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