Former Lakers superstar center has been drawing a lot of flak lately after a series of comments made on the Dan Patrick Show, as Shaq discussed the age-old question: could today’s NBA players compete with the greats?
For sports fans, this is a fun conversation to have because there’s no end to it and it’s a slightly different discussion from the other neverending conversation: who actually is the GOAT? Is it LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, Serena Williams, or any other number of tremendous athletes who’ve taken their game to new heights in their respective sports more than any other?
These kinds of conversations keep the game fun and exciting and I don’t think we should view them as hating…let’s be very clear, the “haters” are reserved for people who hate talented athletes just because they’re talented.
Shaq’s comments were made after the Lakers came off of a four-game losing streak, taking an L most recently to the Utah Jazz, the best team in the NBA Western Conference. It’s safe to say, Shaq’s statements may or may not have been influenced by how his beloved Lakers were most recently playing on the court.
He even went as far as to call the players of today “pudding pops” [his words, not mine]. Yes, he actually said that.
He also mentioned how when he used to play, he’d put 30–35 points on the board and the Lakers would still get swept.
I’ll grant Shaq the kind of charitable interpretation I’d like if I were in his shoes and I’ll chalk this up to Shaq just being his fun, flamboyant self.
While this may sound bad at first, Shaq clarified that he took the advice and wisdom of older players, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar whom he mentioned by name, very seriously when he was a young player in the NBA. He said that the players of the day interpret the wisdom of the greats from the classic days of the NBA as “being haters,” when in actuality, they’re just trying to help the younger players of today up their games.
He also mentioned 5 players in today’s NBA that could outdo Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22nd, 2006. After going into halftime trailing the Raptors by 14 points, 63 to 49, Kobe came out with all guns blazing and rocked the Raptors with an astonishing 81-point game, second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game that’s the stuff NBA legends are made of.
And of those 5 players, 3 of them are on the same team. And that team is…
…you guessed it, the Brooklyn Nets. The team that some people are calling “the superteam” assembled for one sole purpose: to beat the Lakers in the championship this year. With the addition of James Harden, they’ve become a serious threat in the Eastern Conference, a force to be reckoned with.
Shaq’s list of 5 players that could outdo Kobe’s 81-point game includes James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving, from the Nets, but also Steph Curry of Golden State and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns. Those are the five.
Note: not a single Los Angeles Laker is on that list.
And the Lakers are the defending champs, shaping up to possibly win another championship with Dennis Schröder back in the mix as of late, while superstar Anthony Davis is still out with an injury to his Achilles.
The thing is, they’re up against a lot of really great teams this year. The Utah Jazz has the best record in the NBA with 27 wins and 8 losses, the Lakers trailing behind them with 24 wins and 11 losses, and the Philadelphia 76ers are the best team in the Eastern Conference with 23 wins to 12 losses on their record at current.
And doesn’t this kind of shoot Shaq’s theory in the foot? Sure, the players Shaq mentioned are all truly great players who are amazing to watch. But the league is so diverse with so many incredible players out there, I think his comments may be a bit hasty if anything.
Think about it, you’ve got the LA Lakers, the defending champs, who have none of the players on Shaq’s list. And there’s a good possibility that they could win the championship again. Do you really think Anthony Davis doesn’t have it in him to put up 81 points in a game? He did break Wilt Chamberlain’s record for the highest-scoring player in an All-Star game with 52 points scored from 39 shots.
And what about Lebron James? Sure, he’s 36, but he astonishes us Lakers fans, even in 2021, whenever he steps onto the court and kicks it into high gear. He’s made some surprising turnarounds happen when the Lakers thought all was lost. Lebron James is in his second prime, so to speak, and it would be a dream to see him play that hard and tie or break Kobe’s 2nd-place record for the most points in a game.
Or what about a player who doesn’t get as much attention, like Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets who gave us jaw-dropping performances in last year’s NBA Western Conference Finals against the Lakers? What about Jimmy Butler’s performance in the finals last year?
Personally, I disagree with Shaq. I think the game has gotten more competitive over time, not less. I think the league has better defenders today that make it harder to score with impunity, and I think the combination of these factors makes it much harder for the superstars to stand out like they used to.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible for the right player on the right team, playing against another team that’s having an exceptionally bad night.
What I think he’s really trying to say is that the players of today are sensitive. But it’s a different world we live in today. There’s Twitter, Facebook, and all sorts of social media, where people have to deal with ungodly amounts of blowback for just about every conceivable thing they could do.
Instead of having a spotlight on the nightly TV news for a bad game, it’s discussed publicly all day every single day, twenty-four-seven, and they just have to deal with it. I couldn’t imagine the psychological impact of this.
But let’s be real, there’s no shortage of superstar talent in the NBA, even the kind of talent that could put up an 81-point game if they tried hard enough.