As expected, after Lakers practice on Monday, in addition to the news about Steve Nash’s ‘doubtful’ status for tonight’s game, much of the focus was on Shaquille O’Neal. Head coach Mike D’Antoni reminisced about how much fun it was to coach and be around Shaq in Phoenix, plus what he remembers most.
“Just him running around the locker room crazy. Him driving the big semi-trailers cab, blowing his horn all over the place…He just does everything in a grand scale….he was fun to be with.”
D’Antoni didn’t just have words of praise for his personality, he said Shaq was one of the best to ever play the game.
“One of the best ever. He changed basketball. Everything you do, you’re preparing against his team.”
So, what was it like to play against Shaquille O’Neal? The words from a coach have a different weight than those of an opponent. Pau Gasol also had high words of praise for O’Neal, on and off the court.
“He was tough. I always thought as a player when they asked me, ‘Who’s the hardest player to go against?’ It was him. His size, his strength, his power…It was so much too handle, especially when he wanted to go.”
Having played plenty of games against Shaq, Pau Gasol had much experience to draw from in answering questions about how hard it was to defend such a beast on the court. Pau Gasol didn’t hold back.
“You would always feel it after every game you played against him. Your body would feel it. He was a wall, he was a brick wall…I was happy when I went and got around him.”
Even Dwight Howard, who although had an awkwardly long pause (watch video here) before initially responding to questions about Shaq, couldn’t help but say nice things about him.
“When you have a career like his, that’s what you get. You get your jersey in the rafters. So I think it’s awesome.”
Dwight said he was too young to remember much about Shaq, besides that he won, but he expanded upon his own dreams to have a jersey hanging one day.
“That’s our goal, we want to be Hall of Famers. We want to have our jerseys hanging from the rafters. We want to have a statue. Just what you do for the team during your years of playing there and a lot of guys, like Shaq, have made the Lakers very popular, so that’s why he has his jersey retired.”
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