A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The Accidental Hater

with 2 comments

Image from Chapelle's Show

With Shaquille O’Neal‘s retirement I feel compelled share what unique place Shaq Diesel occupied in my mind.

This won’t be something everyone enjoys because it’s a quite negative place. However, I do think that it represents a side of Shaq’s career that needs to be told along with the good. Is it sour grapes? Call it what you will.

Call me Magic

I was born and raised a Laker fan in Los Angeles. Magic Johnson was the first player I ever knew of. He was the star of the city, and hey, with my last name and my penchant for basketball, how could I now want to call myself “Magic”.

Fast forward to Shaq’s feud with Kobe Bryant. I begin to get more and more irritated. While Kobe’s ball hogging tendencies made me a touch sympathetic to teammates complaining, Shaq’s behavior was so awful that he was the one I felt the frustration toward.

Some choice quotes from Tex Winter:

Shaq started pouting. In effect he was saying to us, ‘If I’m not the primary option on offense, don’t expect me to work hard on defense.

Phil was dealing with two mighty big egos. But in my mind I blamed Shaq more than Kobe. Kobe tried to sacrifie. Kobe tried to please Shaq, because Kobe realized the team’s effectiveness began with Shaq. But if you look at Shaq’s quote in the paper, it was always me, me, me.

It was just the situation that developed. As much as anything else, it was Shaq that broke them up. He was the one that left. He left because he couldn’t get what he wanted – a huge pay raise. There was no way ownership could give him what he wanted. Shaq’s demands held the franchise hostage, and the way he went about it didn’t please the owner too much.

That last one may seem like an after-the-fact thing but it wasn’t. It was just after Karl Malone and Gary Payton had signed with the Lakers for pennies on the dollar that Shaq started demanding he get his new contract with nearly 2 years left on his current deal. Obviously this was about the most blatant signal Shaq could possibly give to his new teammates that he didn’t respect the sacrifice they were making, and it stands in stark contrast to what Dwyane Wade and LeBron James did in Miami.

However, it’s also important to understand that Shaq was eligible to make $30 million per season with his new contract while the league’s salary cap for entire teams was $43.9 million. (He eventually signed in Miami at $20 million per season, an amount that he considered an insult when it came from the Lakers.) The contract truly would have crippled the team even if Shaq aged gracefully. And of course he showed no signs of aging gracefully: He was out of shape, and unwilling to let Kobe become the alpha male of the team.

Coming out of the closet

Wallace and his afro, making me misty for the ABA

For all the frustrations though, the Lakers were still my team. And then Game 2 of the finals happened against the Detroit Pistons. The Lakers nearly lost, but pulled it out in overtime, and afterwards I was sad. As I reflected on this, I was shocked to realize that against my will, I was cheering for the Pistons.

And while I’ve always been a fan of Big Ben Wallace, his afro, and the blue-collar nature of the team, let’s face it, I hadn’t found a new favorite team. I was cheering against my team.

Now, as a guy who talks a lot of basketball with people, I’m accustomed to those twin words that people use to dismiss everyone who disagrees with them: homer and hater. They bounce off of me because I know where my opinions come from.

The thing about those labels is that the assumption they hold is that your opinion is biased because of some kind of loyalty to a team or player. For a die hard fan of a team this makes sense, but that ain’t me.

It’s not that I am free of all bias, but to whatever extent my biases exist, the causality flows in the other direction. I come to opinions based on rational analysis, and my allegiances in debate are thus primarily a matter of how my opinion differs from the average fan.

People think I’m a Kobe Bryant hater because I call him overrated, but in reality I just think he’s overrated and emotional bias comes into play only over a long duration of being subjected to people calling me a hater.

Call me Silky

But Shaq is another animal. I’ve cheered against him in every game I watched him since he left the Lakers not because he left my team, but because of the fact that since he had been on my team, I had been forced to see his abhorrent behavior first hand for years. After all that, I truly do have something against the guy. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.

You know what’s funny though? The one guy who I accidentally became a true hater of – I don’t often write stuff about him that makes people call me a hater. Why? Because even after all of this, I don’t actually think he’s overrated.

Shaq was the single strongest force of nature I’ve ever seen on a basketball court, or in any sport for that matter.

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2 Responses

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  1. Shaq Love: A large kid, fun loving, incredibly entertaining, doesn’t take life too seriously, historically generous (see the story of him buying a car for an employee because he mocked his car the day before).

    Shaq Hate: Practice basketball! Take care of your body! Rebound and play more defense!

    I always knew you were a hater Matt.

    ElGee

    June 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm

  2. Shaq’s never been in command of his ego, never had that Russell or Kareem-like ability to put it to one side in service of the game. He also never had the Jordan-like ability to self-delude himself to the extent he could turn his ego to the service of the franchise (not necessarily “the team”, but the franchise).

    I didn’t have the (mis?)fortune to have Shaq play for my franchise though, so I don’t quite have your intensity of either examination or dislike.

    Ravenred

    June 5, 2011 at 7:16 pm


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