Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Diesel's big advantage

I will be traveling to Scotland tomorrow so my next post won’t be until Monday at the earliest. This should be an exciting weekend in the sports world with Michigan-Michigan St. and the Bracket Buster in college basketball. The NBA All-Star game featuring four Pistons should be memorable as will the Olympics. Sadly, I probably won’t be watching any of it. Something tells me that might not be such a bad thing (MSU-UM). Have an enjoyable weekend!  

This site often doubles as a venting zone for me. Sometimes it takes me a while to get fed up enough to devote a lengthy post complaining about something. Well, the time has come for me to vent about a particular situation that seems to bother me more and more each year. As you might have guessed from the title of this post, it has to do with Shaquille O’Neal.

In a way, my complaint isn’t really with Shaq at all. He’s completely innocent of any wrongdoing. I’ve long felt that Shaq is the most unstoppable force that has ever played in the NBA. He’s an athletic wonder who moves amazingly well for a man that stands over seven feet tall and 330 pounds. He was my favorite basketball player when he was at LSU with Chris Jackson. I was perplexed and outraged when Christian Laettner made the 1992 Dream Team over Shaq. Shaq was the better player then and a better player now. While I don’t hold the same affection for Shaq as I did back then, I still respect his incredible athleticism and low-post prowess.

Shaq has made the All-Star team 13 times. He is unanimously considered a top-10 player in NBA history. He’s won an MVP award and three Finals MVP awards. His career averages are an amazing 27 points and 12 rebounds. Few can match those credentials. Additionally, I highly doubt that anybody will ever be able to match Shaq’s physical dominance in the NBA. Wilt Chamberlain dominated in an era where big men were 6’7. Shaq would’ve scored 100 points per game if he played during that era.  

That said, Shaq’s dominance would not be possible if he weren’t allowed to break the rules more blatantly that any player in NBA history. As a frequent player of the game of basketball and knowledgeable fan of the NBA, I understand the rules quite well. The NBA referees have an entirely different rulebook for Shaq. Some might argue that this is necessary because Shaq’s size poses a problem. I feel that this is a cop-out of monumental proportions. The reality is that if the referees called a foul every time Shaq committed a foul, the Diesel would have to change his game so much that he wouldn’t be nearly as effective or risk fouling out of every game in the first half. The NBA is clearly not in the interest of sabotaging the game of one of its marquee players so they let Shaq break the rules.

Shaq started off his NBA career in an entirely different manner. He shocked the NBA in his rookie season by making quick moves to the basket and using his athleticism to get around defenders. His combination of size, quickness and power was something the NBA had never seen before especially from a rookie. As his career progressed, he relied more and more on his size to the point that his primary offensive weapon is powering through a defender. In a sense, his progress as a basketball player was sacrificed by a combination of the refs letting him get away with committing offensive fouls and his ever increasing size.

Every superstar in the NBA gets “calls” that the average player doesn’t get. It’s a fact of the game. Michael Jordan got the benefit of the doubt virtually every time he drove the lane. However, Jordan was given the benefit of the doubt when people fouled him or appeared to foul him. Shaq is allowed to gain an advantage by fouling other people and getting away with it. That is an advantage that nobody has ever had in the NBA.

I really have no idea how the general public feels about this issue. My guess is that there are some people that feel that the contact that occurs with Shaq and other players in the lane is incidental. Others might refuse to give credence to Shaq’s advantage because it would take away from Shaq’s accomplishments and notoriety (probably LA Lakers and Miami Heat fans.). I would be surprised, however, if the majority of the NBA fans haven’t noticed this.

I have read the argument that because of Shaq’s size, he takes more abuse from defenders. That argument is hogwash. Countless times per game, Shaq bulls over a defender often knocking the player to the floor. It often results in an uncontested dunk while the player on the floor looks around in bewilderment. Since Shaq has gotten away with punishing defenders for 14 years with illegal contact, defenders have no recourse other than to brace for the contact. Over time, NBA defenders have realized that Shaq will likely not be called for an offensive foul if they get knocked down. So, they often initiate contact to offset the impending collision. That is hardly the defenders fault. That is simply a result of the NBA referee’s double-standard over the last 14 years.

Shaq is also guilty of pushing people out of the way going for offensive rebounds. This has long been attributed to his enormous size. The fact of the matter is that size makes absolutely no difference. Just because someone is bigger doesn’t change what constitutes a foul. Charging is defined as illegal contact by pushing or moving into another player's torso. Pushing is defined as contact which attempts to force a player to move. Those rules go for players that are 175 pounds or 375 pounds. Shaq already has tremendous advantages due to his size. He should be able to box out every player in the league. He should be able to establish position every time down the court. He should be a dominating shot blocker. He is all of those things. Those are advantages that come with having incredible size. But, he has much more than that. He is allowed to bull players over on the offensive end. He is allowed to push people out of the way when going for rebounds.

Fortunately, this argument will soon be moot as far as how it effects the NBA. Shaq will retire soon and we will unlikely see someone who’s a) as big as he is and b) allowed to break the rules for a long time. However, I am surprised that more hasn’t been made of this situation. I have never seen an athlete in any sport that has been allowed to break the rules like Shaq has. The equivalent would be like letting Randy Moss push off on every deep throw. That seems laughable. Moss is already an athletic freak. He doesn’t need a bigger advantage. Yet, Shaq is allotted just that luxury. It has become common belief that a player as big as Shaq can’t help but to push off and bull people over. How this became an accepted belief is beyond me. That would be like someone saying that they can’t help but to drive 100 MPH because they drive a Ferrari. Rules are rules. The fact that Shaq has only been called for an average of 3.4 fouls per game over his NBA career reeks of impropriety on the referee’s behalf.

I watched the Miami-Detroit game this past Sunday. Shaq was shoving people around on what seemed like every other possession. At one point, the Pistons had Antonio McDyess guarding Shaq. Based on the NBA rules, Shaq would have to drive by (around) McDyess or shoot a jump shot to score. This is how the plays generally unfolded: 1) Shaq blasts his body into McDyess, 2) McDyess tries to body up Shaq to avoid being knocked to the floor 3). Either McDyess is called for a foul or he is knocked to the floor 4) Shaq gets free throws or he dunks over a battered McDyess. It did not take the slightest inkling of basketball skill for Shaq to score on McDyess. Shaq did not score because McDyess couldn’t defend him. Shaq scored on McDyess because the refs did not follow the NBA rule book. No wonder McDyess can’t stop Shaq. If I were playing against my four-year old neighbors, I would already have a size advantage to begin with. Now, imagine if I was also allowed to thrash my body into them as I drove to the lane. My four-year old neighbors would be lying on the ground crying in a puddle of their own blood as I dunked in their faces. Yet, nobody cares when Shaq is afforded the same luxury.

I realize that this will likely fall on def ears in terms of affecting how people view Shaq. The NBA won’t all of a sudden start calling Shaq like every other player. The precedent has been set. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t annoy me (and possibly you) considerably. It also doesn’t mean that I can’t take the Diesel’s big advantage into consideration when I rate him among the NBA greats. Shaq is a good basketball player but he isn’t nearly as good as the NBA has allowed him to be. If you don’t believe me, then tell me how a player who isn’t quick, can’t shoot free throws, lacks stamina, can’t shoot three pointers, can’t shoot outside of ten feet and can’t dribble facing the basket can dominate a game that is filled with players who are proficient in all of those areas (i.e. Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett).


Uncontainable Spirit said...

The hate is strong within you... smh.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great article! I've always thought Shaq's play was unfair... You said everything I was thinking and more. I like basketball though I never play it nor am I a huge fan, but I followed the sixers in 2001 when they went to the finals. That's when I got to watch Shaq’s play closely. I couldn't believe the things he gets away with. He would get the ball outside the box and just back himself into the defender (Mutombo) bulldozing his way to the basket until he was close enough to dunk or lay it in. That aggression would be called an offensive foul for anyone else. If the defender tried to hold his ground, he'd get called for a foul, or knocked out of position, leaving Shaq uncontested to the basket. If Shaq was double teamed, he’d throw it out to that Will Smith look-alike who would nail a 3-pointer. Shaq even got away with some blatant fouls… One time he elbowed Mutombo in the face and then dunked over him. It was thrilling to watch the Sixers pull off that huge upset in game 1, but those first 3 games were all very close, and Shaq was completely unstoppable all series long. There's no doubt if Shaq were held to the rules, and Shaq’s offensive fouls were called, the Sixers would have won that series. I have nothing against Shaq the person, but I have no respect for Shaq the basketball player. That’s not how basketball is supposed to be played!


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