What tiresome nickname will Shaq bestow upon him self in this go-around in the NBA merry-go-round? As a guess, “The Big Sheltiq” sounds about right, but really, who knows? Shaq’s antics are about the only thing about Shaq’s game that vaguely approaches “interesting,” and even that has steadily lost its appeal.
What’s interesting about Shaq’s career is the value of being media savvy. The earliest line on Shaq was that he was something of a punk—David Halberstam was scathing about him in Playing For Keeps--and the earliest line was, amusingly enough, correct. As the years went by, the media was steadily charmed by Shaq until you barely hear any criticism about him anymore. In fact, the media seems devoted to the idea that Shaq will somehow affect the Celtic’s season positively, with one writer declaring that it shows the Celtics “aren’t laying down to the Heat” and Chris Mannix writing a bizarre article in which he writes every reason for not signing Shaq…including the ideas that it will: hurt the Celtics on offense and defense and then says that the Celtics will somehow figure it out. I mean, yeah, maybe. But consider this little factoid: LeBron was a +15 plus/minus last season; LeBron with Shaq was a +2.6. Basically, this won’t work out well.
Shaq has left every team he’s been on bitterly, and yet he’s received no blame for leaving each of those teams on bad terms. It’s either ignored, or blame is sloughed off to someone else, with the prominent example being Kobe Bryant. But remember what Kobe’s complaints were about Shaq: Shaq never worked hard on his game. And that’s indisputably true of Shaq’s career: he never worked hard and so was injured far more games than he should have been, and was less effective in those games than he should have been. People have a way of selectively remembering the highs, and if you use that standard Shaq really was among the most dominant ever. But of course Shaq wasn’t just that, and it’s not a credit to his career that he was never the rebounder or defender he could’ve been. In fact, of the three defining big men of the aughts—Duncan, Garnett, and Shaq—the other two weren’t just better defenders and rebounders, but obviously better defenders and rebounders.
Shaq has done all of the things that would ordinarily land you in the media doghouse. In fact, he’s actually done all of those things, as opposed to the media imagining or making it up. And yet here Shaq is on his sixth team, and there’s no discussion about how it effects his legacy that Shaq has become The Big Vagabond. Ordinarily, players who switch teams all of the time, angering people at every stop, while not working as hard as they should, while not playing defense or rebounding, while being loud and outspoken—normally, these players get vilified. Not for Shaq. Compare someone like LeBron to someone like Shaq: LeBron took less money than he could’ve gotten to play for a winner; Shaq went from Orlando for max bucks to a team that, at the time, was not very good (the Lakers) and that took some luck to assemble a winning team. One of these players has a low Q rating for disloyalty and jerkishness, and really both of them should. But it’s the power of selective outrage and selective perception that one guy is placed in the “Manny being Manny” category. And it’s just another example of how weird people can be when they’re determined to be.