Do Your Homework, Bob. (An Open Letter to Bob Frantz)
J. Paul Zoccali
I enjoyed your lucid essay on the career of recently retired NBA superstar, Shaquille O'Neal. I agree with you--to a certain point. Indeed, in the final third of his career, Shaq's bread-and-butter move was backing guys down in the paint until he was nearly under the hoop before dunking or dropping in a baby hook. And, yes, during that part of his career he got away with
more than his fair share of camping in the paint and maybe even traveling. I think, though, that maybe you're being a little short-sighted in regard to his full body of work.
Other than an obvious case of myopia, the main problem with your piece, Mr. Frantz, is in the examples of other players you use to support your argument. Your criticism clearly focuses on what you perceive so confidently as O'Neal's limited post-player skill set. You write, "he never developed that basketball skills that so many of the all-time greats did." Then, to end the paragraph, you name single signature moves as evidence: Jabbar's sky-hook, Ewing's turnaround jumper, and Olajuwon's "dreamshake."
I grew up watching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the Lakers' "showtime" years of the 80s while I played center for my high school. Quite frankly, I was never that impressed with his overall offensive game. Yes--he used one very difficult, very effective shot--which he usually executed to perfection--that was, for the most part, unstoppable. Still, at the time, his game was a shadow of what it was in his earlier days. I'll never forget the first time I saw highlight footage of him playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, absolutely wheeling and dealing--grainy shots of him executing various different moves including a baseline reverse dunk. Like Shaq, after the first ten years of his career, his game changed considerably. Also, you mention that O'Neal benefited from playing with Koby Bryant, one of the all-time greats and that Patrick Ewing's above average career would have done the same. Um... Abdul-Jabbar had a couple pretty nifty teammates, too. Exactly how do you rate Magic Johnson and James Worthy? As chopped liver?
Patrick Ewing never reached his potential. He didn't even start pulling down his share of rebounds until Pat Reilly became his coach. Comparing his "skill set" to Shaq is a no-brainer. Shaq wins, hands down. Patrick Ewing ranks easily among the top-ten most overrated players in the history of the game.
Olajuwan was one of my idols. He was a ridiculously gifted natural athlete, and, though he lived mostly on a high-arching turnaround jumper and nimble moves used under the basket after snagging offensive rebounds, he did have a high level of both skills and talent. Plus, he could swat shots with the best of them. Yes--he was better than Shaq.
You also mention that O'Neal is not "in the league of the great Wilt Chamberlain [or] Bill Russell." I'll give you a pass on Russell, who was 6', 10", tops, and had a diverse skill set which he used at both ends of the court in addition to his natural athletic ability. He was the leader of the greatest dynasty in the history of the game. Anybody who knows anything about basketball knows he ranks as an all-time great and is considered by many to be #1.
Anybody who knows anything about basketball also knows that at 7', 1", Chamberlain, who did indeed have exceptional post skills in addition to natural talent and size, was ahead of his time. Most un-fettered commentary I've heard about Chamberlain called him a man among boys and much of the footage proves it (except against Russell) as he dumped in finger-rolls from his tip-toes while some poor schmuck enjoyed a close-up whiff of his apparently pheromone-blasting armpit. So, according to your logic, it was acceptable for Chamberlain to use his physical gifts to gain an unfair advantage, but not for O'Neal. How interesting. (Of course, the Cavs didn't exist when Chamberlain was playing, but we'll get to that later.) George Mikan was also ahead of his time, by the way.
You also mention "several of his contemporaries," but don't offer any specific examples, when in fact, in a discussion focusing on Shaq's contempararies' post-skills sets, you need mention only one: Tim Duncan. (I shouldn't need to explain this, Bob--so, I won't.) I find this odd, considering your exceptional acumen for the game and its history.
And finally, in regard to the history of highly skilled NBA low-post players (Since he played as much like a small forward as a power forward, I won't cover James Worthy.), you missed the best. It's no surprise though, considering he played in the shadow of one of the all-time greats, regardless of position. He was slow, could barely jump, and at 6', 10", wasn't really all that tall for a low-post player in the 80s, going up against the likes of Abdul-Jabbar and Olajuwan. But long arms and deceptive quickness aided the most diverse post-skills arsenal of all time to make him nearly unstoppable. Yeah, that's right--Kevin McHale had it all: turnaround jumper (both ways), jump and baby hook (both ways), face-up jumper from anywhere within fifteen feet of the basket, sick baseline stuff and even sicker stuff deep in the paint.
You should watch this video, Bob. Pay close attention at these times: 1:45, 2:30, 2:47, 3:14...oh, I'm sure there are more, but I don't feel like watching the whole thing:
This one might help, too:
If you must rant, Bob, at least do a little homework.
Multiple Choice Quiz:
A.) Bob Frantz is fully aware of everything I wrote and wrote his piece specifically for the purpose of eliciting responses such as mine and with the goal of getting his piece printed in a newspaper as far away as San Francisco on the strength of its potential to initiate controversy.
B.) Bob Frantz really doesn't know that much about NBA Basketball.
C.) Bob Frantz does know quite a bit about NBA basketball, but is living in a state denial and jealousy of big-time winners because of constant hometown pro-sports let-downs. He knows his Cavaliers ran out of miracles a long time ago and is having a hard time dealing with the fact that they were unable to win a championship with LeBron James--a classic case of sour grapes. Yep--Bob knows that the main ingredient missing from James' Cavs teams that likely would have put them over the top was a marquee pure point guard, and that the organization blew it when they didn't go all out to get Chauncey Billups when he became available in Detroit.
Shit happens, Bob.