If you weren’t a Lakers fan in the early ‘00s, boy did you miss out. LA rattled off three straight titles, barely breaking a sweat. They toyed with the rest of the league the way an adolescent bulldozes Legos.
Now, don’t get me wrong, every once in awhile some team from the Western Conference would stand up for a minute and get in their way, but ultimately the Lakers would find their way into the Finals where they would easily discard whichever team the Eastern Conference offered up as a sacrifice.
Poor Todd MacCulloch.
That Lakers team was a different kind of beast. Mainly because they were built around a different kind of beast — Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq was like having Godzilla on your team. It didn’t really matter who the Lakers happened to be playing on any given night, you knew they didn’t have an answer for Shaq.
Sure, some teams claimed they did — the flannel-wearers in Portland will tell you Arvydas Sabonis came as close to stopping Shaq as anybody else. They’re probably right. But I remember seeing the same exasperated look on Sabas’ face at least 6,739 times between 1998 and 2001 as someone looking on adjusted Shaq’s box score.
There just wasn’t an answer for a guy like Shaq. Players his size weren’t supposed to be able to do the things he could do. For his size, he was remarkably nimble. He would lean against his defender, forcing them to push their own weight into him just to stay on their feet. Then, with cat-like quickness, Shaq spins baseline for an easy bucket and the other team’s center lunges forward like he missed the top step. Candy.
Thanks for playing.
In fact, Shaq was so universally unstoppable, he accidentally created the next iteration of professional basketball. Long before scheduled player rest, peanut butter and jelly, Tinder, etc., teams didn’t do things like foul intentionally six minutes into a game. But when they discovered there was literally nothing else they could do to slow down Shaq, that’s exactly that they did.
National TV broadcasts would relegate an opposing team’s group of bigs to nothing more than a batch of fouls to be shamelessly hurled at O’Neal. Tragic.
This only made things worse for the referees, who dealt with the fun fact that Shaq was already nearly impossible to officiate. His size afforded defenders an increased physicality that would surely be whistled against lesser centers, yet was fouled nearly every time he caught the ball.
It was impossible for a defender to stay on his feet without committing an infraction, but of course the officials couldn’t call a foul every time down the court. Guys would hack harder and harder until finally Shaq would carry four of them up to the basket with him, dunk it, then head to the line anyways, leaving everyone else to determine who was called for the foul.
Shaq was the most dominant NBA player I’ve ever seen. His size and skillset would transcend any generation of basketball. It didn’t matter when Shaquille O’Neal was born, that guy was going to be a NBA star. I didn’t even get into his passing and that might’ve been what he was best at.
If you had the privilege of watching Shaq in his heyday, nothing I’ve said here is news. If you missed out, take a few minutes and enjoy the videos below. You won’t be disappointed.
Congrats, Big Shaqtue.