Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal revealed his all-time starting five again, and you’re not going to believe this, but it looks nothing like the one he listed three years ago.
When The Times-Picayune asked O’Neal in 2015 for his top five players in NBA history, he went position by position, naming Bill Russell, Karl Malone, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Now, three years later, only two of them remain in Shaq’s all-time starting five — one obvious and the other ridiculous.
In an interview with the “Today” show that will air on Sunday, host Willie Geist asked O’Neal for an update. His response: Kobe Bryant, Jordan, Larry Bird, Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon. That, my friends, is a wild swing in a span of three years.
Maybe O’Neal is taking team chemistry into consideration this time around, which makes leaving a traditional point guard off the list somewhat curious. Maybe his views on how a starting five should be constructed have evolved in the pace-and-space era, which makes keeping a traditional power forward on the list a little wonky. And maybe Shaq is just messing with us. He has a history of doing this.
Let’s take him seriously, just for argument’s sake.
Listen, Jordan is the greatest player in history. Everybody’s list should include him, even if you have various versions. Shaq’s consistency on that one is no surprise.
Malone? I get it. He’s the NBA’s second all-time leading scorer. He retired as the greatest power forward in league history, unless you preferred Charles Barkley. But Tim Duncan put an end to that conversation. Shaq should know. He lost to Duncan en route to TD’s first two titles in 1999 and 2003. Maybe Shaq considers him more of a center, in which case he might consider Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett, whose cases are a little closer to Malone’s and who make more sense in the modern game. Or slide Bird to the four, and put LeBron James at the small forward position.
For real: Shaquille O’Neal does not have LeBron James in his starting five. We probably should have stopped taking this list seriously once that came to pass.
But we like arguing these things! So, let’s examine Shaq’s three big switches here.
First, he supplanted Magic with Kobe. When Johnson called Bryant the greatest Laker ever before his final game in 2016, Kobe handed the moniker right back to Magic. Kobe may have the longevity, but Magic was a three-time MVP and three-time Finals MVP. Plus, he’s the greatest point guard in history. Seems strange for Shaq to supplant Magic, but maybe his blood feud with Kobe softened since 2015.
O’Neal also swapped Dr. J out for Bird, which he should have done three years ago. Shaq also had Dr. J as the greatest player of all time in 2015, and now he’s not in his starting five. I’m pretty sure he liked Dr. J for sentimental reasons, and you can’t really argue with that logic. Sentimentality be damned this time around, I guess.
Finally, Shaq supplanted Russell with Olajuwon. In 2015, O’Neal’s argument was, “Bill Russell won 11 championships. ... Russell doesn’t have high [statistical] numbers, but with 11 championships nobody is beating that.” Apparently they are, though, because Shaq now has Olajuwon beating that, with no explanation.
Most people, if they weren’t putting Russell at center, would probably peg Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain or even Shaq himself ahead of Olajuwon (who is great!). Maybe Shaq has something against Lakers centers all of a sudden.
Reminded he left himself off the list, Shaq said, “I’m not First Team. Not at all.”
Well, Stephen Curry, who may soon be in the debate for the point guard spot on this list, has Shaq on his First Team, which is a nice reminder that these things are subjective and nobody is really wrong. That never stops me from saying they are.
I actually like Geist’s starting five better: Magic, Jordan, LeBron, Russell and Shaq.
“I can’t be mad at that,” said O’Neal. That’s his best take yet.
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