Four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal was the most unstoppable force in the NBA during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaq was so physically dominant during his prime that he changed the game on both ends of the floor. Opposing teams had to come into matchups with the Lakers with a game plan to put the superstar center on the free-throw line as much as possible because they simply couldn’t stop him in the paint.
As a result of O’Neal’s physical style of play, other teams countered with physical play of their own. Hard fouls became a common occurrence for Shaq with the seven-footer dealing with double and triple teams on a nightly basis. Almost every time O’Neal faced a double or triple team, the star center ended up heading to the charity stripe with opponents being forced to foul in order to stop him.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, O’Neal talked about the physicality of his era and openly admits that it was soft in comparison to Michael Jordan’s prime years with the Chicago Bulls. Shaq also believes today’s NBA is even softer:
It was actually kind of soft when I played, too. Before I played, that was the real NBA, and I’m sure the guys that played before me would say that’s the real NBA. But before I came in, with Mike playing against Detroit and the Bad Boys – that was the real NBA. I kind of played in the soft era, also. And then of course, with me being dominant, everybody crying about the rules, that just made it more so. But now it’s very soft.”
It’s hard to argue with O’Neal’s comments about the state of the NBA today in terms of physical play. NBA referees rarely let anything go too far in terms of physicality. Technical fouls today in comparison to Shaq’s era are much different in what actually merits a technical foul call from the refs.
Back in Jordan’s prime, and even more so in Magic Johnson’s era, the foul calls were much different. Real fights on the floor, unlike the fights of today in the NBA that consist only of shouting at one another, may not even result in ejections. Hall of Famer Robert Parish of the Boston Celtics blatantly punching Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer in the Eastern Conference Finals is a perfect example of that. Parish wasn’t kicked out of the game nor did he receive a technical.
The Lakers saw their fair share of hard fouls and physical play during the Showtime era with even current head coach Byron Scott receiving some nasty hits from opponents.
Needless to say, the physical aspect of the NBA that made it very entertaining resulting in bitter rivals no longer exists. From time to time, there’s a hard foul or dirty play here and there, but this is no longer the physical game it once was with O’Neal’s assessment being right on the money.[H/T Pro Basketball Talk] [divide]