O’Neal’s claims of Andrew Bynum and (Brook) Lopez being better centers than Howard only continues to drag his own name through the mud. While at times last year I was fully on-board with the notion of Bynum being a better ‘fit’ for the Lakers than Howard, I don’t personally feel the comparison is even fair in terms of overall (consistent) impact upon the games. The notion that Brook Lopez is a better player than Howard is just plain laughable. No disrespect intended to the Brooklyn Nets big man, but outside of scoring capability there isn’t any amount of discernible evidence to place Lopez in the same sentence as Howard as an all-around player. It is an unnecessary practice to denigrate Howard in this manner, and one that I really wish O’Neal would simply let go.
I recently had a conversation with respected, longtime NBA writer Roland Lazenby (author of Jerry West, The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon) and this quote definitely stood out:
“It’s a mix of competitive juices and marketing savvy spiced by Shaq confronting his own mortality. As Phil says, it also has a bit of truth.”
It couldn’t be put much better than that, as I agree that O’Neal is generally influenced by protecting his public image, regardless of whether he would acknowledge it. When I read OC Register writer Kevin Ding’s article about the organization’s plans to retire O’Neal’s jersey during the April 2 meeting with the Dallas Mavericks, I (like other fans) immediately decided I would be in attendance no matter what the cost. O’Neal runs the risk of alienating some of his longtime supporters, and really disappointing the newer portion of Lakers Nation that wasn’t around to enjoy his exploits. I will watch the game and still (likely) get a bit misty-eyed when they unveil that huge No. 34. Unfortunately, due to O’Neal’s insistence to continuously take shots at a current player (more importantly current Laker) I don’t know that I can justify the time/effort/money witnessing the commemoration in person will take due to the sour taste left in my mouth.
Again, I won’t attempt to take anything away from the greatness and legacy of Shaquille O’Neal. His numbers, career accolades, and accomplishments have earned that respect and regard. I only hope there’s someone out there, maybe Dr. Buss, that can get through to the one-time great center quick, fast, and in a hurry. We don’t need a season of O’Neal looking for each and every opportunity to downgrade and disrespect Howard, especially when you consider the incredible honor the organization is going to bestow upon him in just a few months.