February 15, 2012
Shaquille O'Neal's petty jealousy of Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, like Superman, knows no bounds. In another transparent move bent to make the impending free-agent big man look like a big meanie, Shaq told reporters that Howard leaving the Magic would be "a travesty." Considering that Shaq himself left Orlando 16 years ago, what would that make his free-agent flight? An actual tragedy? A meteorite shower that killed thousands?
In a conference call with reporters, as transcribed by the Orlando Sentinel, O'Neal took a rather benign question about the difference between 1992-era Orlando (which hosted the All-Star game when Shaq was still at LSU), and somehow spun it around to Howard in a fantastically passive/aggressive fashion:
"Orlando's come a long way since the '92 All-Star Game," O'Neal added. "The nightlife here is fabulous. The real estate has been fabulous. You still have Disney around the corner for you to bring your family. So I think it's going to be a great event. It'd be good if he could put on a show and get the love and the support from the fans here and win the MVP. Hopefully, he stays, because that arena there is one of the best arenas in the country. If he leaves, it'll be a travesty."
Now, we (and O'Neal) can spin that he was referring to a new Orlando arena that would be functioning without a franchise player in it during its third season in 2012-13, or the fans that would be hurt by Howard's absence. But you know what he's after, here. This is a guy who still counts Andrew Bynum, a deserved starting All-Star in every regard, as the best center in the NBA ahead of Howard. He goes out of his way, at every chance, to denigrate Howard and his coach (and former O'Neal coach) Stan Van Gundy.
Howard would like to leave the Orlando Magic mainly because they boast a roster that leads the NBA in wasted bang for the buck. GM Otis Smith has reeled in a litany of overpaid and mismatched players in an attempt to build around Howard, and it's a credit to Dwight, Van Gundy and trade throw-in Ryan Anderson that the Magic are keeping it together for this long. He's well within his rights to believe, like we do, that his NBA future is better served somewhere else.
Shaq, if you'll recall, left the Magic in 1996 to go play for a Lakers team that had been gutted to an extent by Jerry West in an attempt to sign O'Neal. Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel were on board, as was rookie Kobe Bryant; but O'Neal had no idea about Bryant, and he was leaving a better team (with an All-NBA first-teamer in Penny Hardaway) to go to Los Angeles. Good for him, it turned out to be the right call (that Bryant kid sure turned out to be something, though Los Angeles botched trades sending Jones and Van Exel out for Tony Battie and Glen Rice), but let's not forget just how things were back then when he made the jump from Orlando.
Howard has made his fair share of missteps in how he's handled his frustrations with Orlando, but we're really hoping Shaq ends this silly and transparent batch of sly digs. It was unfortunate that O'Neal couldn't work out with Orlando, or Los Angeles towards the end, or Miami once Pat Riley tired of him, or the Suns once Phoenix figured out he was a terrible fit, or Cleveland. It's unfortunate that he's keeping the same tone even after retirement.
This was a local interview bent on hyping the city of Orlando and hoping (like we all do) that the Magic could get it right with Howard. But we know what Shaq's on about. Kindly get it all out of your system, Big Fella, before the All-Star Weekend hits. Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never really got along, either, and we don't like seeing the same needless enmity between you and Howard. Especially when Howard has taken the high road throughout.
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