7’1, 325 lb. rapper, actor, TNT analyst, and 15-time All-Star, the always irreverent Shaquille O’Neal criticized Dwight Howard’s move to the Los Angeles Lakers, a move which so closely mirrors O’Neal’s own defection from the Orlando Magic 16 years earlier.
Howard can only hope to enjoy similar success in L.A. as Shaq, who had four Finals appearances, three championships, three Finals MVP’s, and his only regular season MVP in a Lakers’ uniform. And, Shaq is setting the bar high for Howard.
In a recent interview with Times Picayune, O’Neal continued the comparison between the two super centers. After being asked a simple question about his reaction to Howard coming to the Lakers, Shaq took another subtle shot at All-Star center Dwight Howard:
“I don’t have a reaction. You have to care to have a reaction…in order to step in my shoes you have big shoes to fill [size 23 to be exact]. For him, he’s going to have to at least win three to get people’s respect,” responded O’Neal.
I liked Shaq’s game and always love his antics, but O’Neal cannot seem to resist turning questions about Howard into an interview about himself. But, is Shaq right? Does Howard have to win three championships to get people’s respect? Shaq won three; why can’t Howard to the same?
The 2000-2002 championship Lakers were a product of a perfect storm. Brilliant General Manager and Laker-great Jerry West coaxed the most dominant offensive player in the league to come to L.A., while simultaneously plucking high school phenom Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets. Current Bobcats owner and Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan retired in 1998. O’Neal left for the west, weakening the eastern conference, and paving an easier path for the Lakers to win it all.
When a 24-year old Shaquille O’Neal came to the Lakers in 1996, he joined then rookies Bryant and Derek Fisher. These Lakers became a deep, pass-first team, supported by such great role players as Fisher, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, and Brian Shaw, whom each provided clutch baskets and plays during their run.
After a few years of playoff disappointment, the Lakers were united behind one vision thanks to legendary coach, the Zen Master Phil Jackson. In his first season with the Lakers, Jackson guided them to the first of three consecutive titles, the only three-peat in franchise history.
As Howard, 26, begins his own L.A. story, like O’Neal before him, Howard is the centerpiece of this team (or at least he will be when Bryant retires). While Kobe Bryant remains the Lakers’ number one offensive option, Howard is the youngest, most physically dominant player the Lakers possess.
Deadly clutch shooter and incredible scorer Kobe Bryant just turned 34 in August.
Offensive mastermind, and still one of the best point guards in the NBA, Steve Nash is 38.
Former All-Stars Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace are both 32.
These Lakers not only have a vicious western conference to contend with, but super teams in the east, like the defending champion Miami Heat, who added sharpshooter Ray Allen to their All-Star trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh.
Compared to the Shaq-Kobe Lakers, this team does not have the strongest bench, despite adding former 76ers guard Jodie Meeks and veteran Antawn Jamison in the off-season. With age and depth against them, these Lakers—and Howard—should not be expected to win three titles.
Howard does not need to win three just to earn respect, but he does need to win more than one.
Rob S. De France is a College and University Instructor of English Composition living in Los Angeles. He has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Rhetoric and Composition. De France has played, coached, and officiated competitive high school basketball in California for many years. Recently, De France, his wife, and another colleague started an internationally read magazine at Shwibly.com.