I never thought I’d say this, but Shaq has been a perfect team player. When he plays ten minutes, he doesn’t complain. When he only gets a couple touches, he doesn’t complain. This is a player who used to butt heads with coaches and teammates alike, who used to bitch about touches all the time. But he’s been exemplary in Boston, where he realizes he’s no longer his former self. (Yahoo!)
“You can’t beat the system. You have to join it,” Shaq said. “Even if I could, it wouldn’t be business-ly advantageous to act like that. So no, the system is always right. So whatever the system says you do, you just do it.
“I just enjoy still traveling, going to cities and having a good time. If Perk’s going to be in the starting lineup and I’m coming off the bench that’s fine with me.”
Many stars age poorly. Their pride and ego was part of what made them great to begin with, but when a player gets older and loses a step or two, that pride gets in the way. Think Allen Iverson. When he was one of the NBA’s best players, his ego helped him. He never thought he’d miss a shot. If he did miss, he shot the next one with all the confidence in the world. And the next one. And the next one. And so on. He considered himself the world’s best basketball talent, and it helped him because he played with an edge, a swagger. You don’t become so great without having a Pacific Ocean of confidence.
But as Iverson grew older, that confidence hindered him. How could he fit in as a role player, when he still considered himself an otherworldly talent? How could he take a back seat to O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley (Mike Conley!) when he still thought he could take any guard in the league? How could he ever fit in as a secondary player, when his ego told him he was still head and shoulders better than his teammates?
So Iverson couldn’t make the transformation to role player. He just couldn’t do it. But Shaq’s having an easier time. He’s okay with taking a back seat to younger players.
“Whatever they do to get me my shots, I’ll shoot at a high clip,” said O’Neal, who is averaging 5.5 shots per game. “But it’s not something I worry about. It’s all about winning, baby. Stats don’t matter. None of that [expletive] matters to me. I’ve been there and done that.
“I’m right behind my father, Wilt Chamberlain. I’m cool with points. I’m good. If I pass him up, I do. If I don’t, I’m cool.”
And please, don’t bring up Shaq’s legacy.
“I don’t worry about my legacy,” O’Neal said. “I look at it like this: There are certain guys that have legacies, and I’ve [expletive] tripled and quadrupled what the [expletive] they did, like Bill Walton. That’s how I look at it. Real talk. Everybody has a pen, so everybody’s going to say otherwise. But I know guys that got one [championship] and they got $60,000 speaking gigs off what they did 30 years ago. My legacy is straight. I don’t worry about it.
Let’s try to pretend like Shaq did not just take a shot at Bill Walton, which he very well might have done. What’s more important about that quote is this: Shaq’s ego still exists, and it’s still as big as ever. He’s fucking doubled and quadrupled what the fuck they did. That’s how he looks at it. Real talk. His legacy is straight.
But he’s trying to push aside that ego so he can fit in with a younger team, a talented team with big men galore and championship aspirations.
“It’s hard not being in charge for me. It really is. But I got to accept it,” O’Neal said. “This is a good team. I’m not the only Hall-of-Famer hopeful here.
“If I was on a [expletive] team, I’d be pissed right now. Two points? I would have [expletive] somebody up in the locker room.”
It’s hard, but Shaq’s accepting it. And that’s a good thing — scratch that, a great thing — for the Celtics. Otherwise, Shaq would have fucked somebody up in the locker room. Real talk.