Throughout all of the 2011-12 NBA season, we were told time and time again that then-Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard wanted nothing to do with being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Any deal to Los Angeles would bring up inevitable comparisons to the career arc to that of Shaquille O'Neal, who followed up a four-year stint in Orlando with a free agent flee to the Lakers in 1996 for several reasons (O'Neal was unhappy with Orlando's roster and coaching staff, the team weirdly went low with its initial contract offer, and Los Angeles is where many silly and needlessly entitled people agree on many terrible "entertainment" deals).
Not even a pre-trade deadline conversation with Kobe Bryant could sway Howard, who held the sway in Orlando for so long that they finally agreed to a deal to the Lakers last week that has been widely panned; immediately turning the Lakers from championship contenders to championship favorites. Of course, most knew that any eventual deal to Los Angeles (where Howard has been living since spring, while recovering from back surgery) would leave the petulant big man in the sort of good spirits he showcased during Friday's introductory press conference. All while he follows in the footsteps of the petulant big man that came before him, in O'Neal. Shaq had this to say about Howard on Friday, after declining to correct a "reporter" who offered up a stupidly-loaded question to Shaq, as tipped off to us by the great Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times:
The go-to quote:
"I have three sons and I always tell them that if you want to call yourself big, then you have big shoes to fill," O'Neal said. "Anybody who calls himself big has big shoes to fill. Right now, he's off pace. He has to get himself on pace if he wants to call himself big."
O'Neal's not wrong, not by a long stretch. We're a few days removed from calling Howard "a phony" ourselves, so we can't exactly criticize Shaq for falling right in line with our way of thinking. Even if Howard were handling this appropriately, acting sincere throughout, he would have big shoes to fill. He hasn't done as much, though, worming his way through an embarrassing and drawn out soap opera that even the dregs of Hollywood would hold its nose at.
Should Howard improve, though, and make up for the nonsense he put the Orlando franchise and fan base through over this last year-plus? Should he finally mature, and act responsibly in ways that his predecessors in Laker uniform (George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaq at times) did? Then it's on Shaquille, once he gets over this needless (if not unexpected) jealousy, to move on.
This is not without precedent. Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar disliked each other so much that Wilt declined to take part in a photo shoot commemorating O'Neal's move to Los Angeles in 1996 for Sports Illustrated. Shaq wasn't warm with either, and he's passing this ridiculous and eye-roll worthy enmity onto the next generation — all while talking up former Laker center Andrew Bynum as the best pivotman in the NBA. Andrew isn't, and wasn't even last year with Howard skulking through the season.
The Lakers have over a half-century worth of tradition in Hall of Fame centers, but they have nearly as much history with former centers refusing to acknowledge that a new top dog has come along. Whoever the best 8th grade center in America is better look out, as he sulks through back to school-shopping, because Dwight Howard probably hates him as well. It's tradition.
The whole affair, and Shaq's unwillingness to give in, is what Howard deserves at this point, though.
"At this point," though. Double-though, different points. Because if Howard ever shapes up, then Shaq's attitude is going to have to shape up with him. We just hope that, as was the case when Wilt passed away in 1999 before he and Kareem ever made amends, that the passive-aggressive sniping doesn't last a lifetime.
Or even into Shaq's upcoming turn as TNT analyst this fall. Because we're pretty sick of all involved, right now.