Two proud, dominant, all-world MVP centers. Two completely disparate styles of playing the position. One uniform. One annoying sense of pervading passive/aggressiveness. That's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal for you.
Kareem, as you're well aware, has long been regarded as a prickly type. And though he's put in his dues coaching high school basketball along with stints assisting with both the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, the six-time champion is still on the outside looking in when it comes to NBA coaching gigs. Considering how apathetic his most famous pupil, Clipper bust Michael Olowokandi, was? We can't blame the guy.
Then there's Shaquille O'Neal, who seemingly retired last summer with the same game he entered the NBA with back in 1992. Of course, O'Neal added some improved footwork, strength, and touch along the way; but there wasn't a whole lot of difference in his year-to-year styles despite his 19-season run. And you'd be hard-pressed to think of O'Neal's mentor, because he's never really warmed to one. Bill Walton, according to the Hall of Famer, worked with him in college, but that relationship quickly soured when Walton dared suggest O'Neal work on other facets of his game while working as a television analyst soon after.
Now we have Kareem responding on Facebook to O'Neal's reasons for never really reaching out to the Laker legend during Shaq's eight-year stint in Los Angeles. And they're pretty annoying at best and saddening at worst, from both sides.
Here's Kareem, via some ambitious tracking down from Mark Medina from the Los Angeles Times:
"As a pro I never approached Shaq because I thought he was pretty successful dunking everything and I assumed he didn't want my help," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Additionally, I was never on the coaching staff of any of his teams. I was never unfriendly to him and I would talk to him, but Shaq was enjoying his success, doing it his way. He never asked me of what I thought he should be doing and he never tried to reach out to me for any instruction and I respected that decision.
"If I had any idea that Shaq wanted to learn from me, I would have been happy to have worked with him, but all indications that I had received was that he felt he was doing fine and he didn't need or want my help."
Kareem went on to say that he respected Shaq's privacy and certainly respects his career and what O'Neal has achieved. Still, the Lakers fell short in the 1997, 1998 and 1999 playoffs with O'Neal? Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry Buss/West couldn't have come up with some sort of plan?
Still, the master of the skyhook is acting gracious and tactful in his response. Shaq? Sorry for playing up to the Diesel stereotype, but you get the feeling he had other things on his mind in his first three seasons in Los Angeles -- especially considering his relative weight in those turns compared to how he showed up to camp before his first championship year in 1999-00.
Abdul-Jabbar's response came from a snippet from O'Neal's new autobiography, and the LAT has a summation:
Instead, O'Neal said he tried to earn the respect of several elite centers by filming a Reebok commercial with Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Bill Walton and ensuring that they received "a nice paycheck." But O'Neal avoided pressing the issue with Abdul-Jabbar, who he contended was barely interested in making small talk during their encounters.
There's the prickly part. In Kareem's defense, it's hard to get a word in edgewise with Walton, Chamberlain and Shaq around; especially with Russell cackling away every time one of the previous three drops a zinger. But "a nice paycheck"? Come on, Shaq. It is one thing to make more in a year than some of these guys did in a career, but this a bit gauche to reference two decades later, no?
Ah, well. Just both sides playing up to the part. Still, it would have been nice to see a declining O'Neal pivot and go with a skyhook of sorts in his later years. Whether the tutelage came from the master, or any other influence.