Shaquille O’Neal may just be trying to butter up the Boston Celtics fan base, but he’s doing a phenomenal job. In an interview with Dan Shaugnessy, Shaq considered his place among the elite big men, and said Bill Russell was the best big man of all-time. (Boston Globe)
“I met Wilt [who died in 1999], but we never had a conversation,’’ Shaq said. “I never had a conversation with Kareem. The only one I had a conversation with is the great Bill Russell. And I mean like a real conversation — sit down in a room, lunch, dinner. He told me some stories. It was great.
“Mr. Russell was one of the first legends who had a conversation with me about what I needed to do to get to that next level. And I always want to thank the great Mr. Russell, the greatest big man ever.’’
In just a few short days, Shaq has figured out how to become a well-liked sports figure in Boston: acknowledge the sports tradition of the city, and pay your respects to the stars of the past. After calling “Mr.Russell” the greatest big man ever, all Shaq has to do now is tell us Larry Bird was his favorite player growing up and he’ll have us eating out of his massive palms.
As for his own place in the pantheon of elite big men? Shaq declined to comment, instead preferring to leave it up to the fans to decide.
Does Shaq put himself in the same category as Russell, Wilt, and Kareem?
“I hope I am, but I don’t like to sit down and categorize myself,’’ he said softly (Shaq is a low-talker on a par with Red Sox owner John Henry). “But hopefully when it’s all said and done and you look at my book and look at their book you’ll find some comparison. But I don’t really like to say I’m the best. If I am, I am, if I’m not, I’m not.
Whether Shaq wants to admit it or not, he absolutely belongs in that group of players. Apart from maybe Wilt Chamberlin, Shaq is the most dominant big men ever. He has won four championships, and has career averages of 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks, and he accomplished that while playing in the most competitive era of big men. David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning. Respect to Russell and Chamberlin, but when they played they were really the only great centers in the whole league. It’s a lot easier to dominate like Chamberlin did when you’re going up against skinny 6’7″ power forwards masquerading as centers.
My rankings would probably be 1)Bill Russell, 2) Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, 3) Shaquille O’Neal, 4) Wilt Chamberlin. Russell has to be #1, considering he won 11 championships, and I’m a Celtics fan. Abdul-Jabaar ranks second because he won five rings, 6 MVP’s, and is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Shaq is ranked third for the reasons mentioned above, ahead of Chamberlin because he dominated in a much harder era, while Chamberlin was always outplayed by the only other elite center (Russell) in the league. Also, despite all the breathtaking individual accomplishments, and despite being surrounded by talented players, Chamberlin only won two championships. For those counting, that’s two behind Shaq, three behind Jabaar, and a whopping nine behind Russell.
That’s how I would rank the big men, but I have only watched ESPN Classic, studied the stats, and watched highlights of Kareem, Wilt, and Russell. How would you guys rank ‘em?
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