The Lakers beating the Milwaukee Bucks on national television — their first win over a fellow contender this season — probably would have gotten more attention on Thursday night had Shaquille O’Neal and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell not shared what was quite possibly the most awkward moment in the history of NBA on TNT on the same evening.
As is usual with these things, there were a lot of takes one what happened here, and who was in the right. Some said Shaq was just giving “constructive criticism” — I have genuinely no idea how basically telling a player they were a regular season fraud and that there was nothing they could do about it to their face could be seen as constructive, but alas — while others said that this was essentially everything that is wrong with NBA coverage.
Falling into the former category was internet personality Cuffs The Legend, who for some reason compared Kobe Bryant asking Michael Jordan for tips and tricks in person to Shaq telling Mitchell he sucked on national TV.
Lakers star LeBron James (and Nets star Kevin Durant) had some thoughts on that bad-faith false equivalency:
In case you can’t read that, James wrote “There’s a difference between constructive criticism and soft hating though. I’ve seen it both ways come my way, mostly the hate. You can hear it in their delivery.”
He’s not wrong, either. If there is one thing this whole dumb saga has made clear, it’s that some people don’t understand what constructive criticism actually is. Constructive criticism is telling someone what they’re doing wrong, and how they can improve.
For example, if Shaq had said something like “Donovan, you were great tonight, but how do you think you can take this and translate it into postseason success?”, that would have been closer to constructive criticism. Or if he’d brought up something specific, X’s and O’s wise, that he thinks Mitchell can improve at.
What constructive criticism very much is not is telling someone in front of millions of viewers “you don’t have what it takes to get to that next level. I said it on purpose, I want you to hear it. What do you have to say about that?” There is nothing in there to help Mitchell improve, unless you think just calling him out in front of millions of people after a huge win is “helping,” somehow.
Do you see the difference? What O’Neal did is not the same, and should not be construed as, helping. There was nothing helpful about this incredibly awkward moment. He’s obviously a Lakers legend, and was my first favorite player, but as our own James Dator rounded up over at SB Nation, this has been part of a pattern of some incredibly painful moments for Shaq as a broadcaster. LeBron is right that there was nothing constructive about this, and hopefully all the backlash is something Shaq can learn from.