Shaquille O'Neal believes Julius Erving is the greatest basketball player ever, and that seems significant since Shaq's a paid NBA analyst on TNT and most folks wouldn't put Dr. J in their all-time top five. Some will even leave Erving out of the top 10, and others would argue O'Neal himself made a bigger impact.
But Shaq offered this take to Antenna magazine in response to the question: "Kobe or LeBron?"
"They’re different. LeBron is more of an all-around player — Hey this guy’s open, let me kick it to him. Kobe is more of, Oh, we’re down six? I’m going to shoot it three times and get us six points. But they’re both great players. It’s a matter of opinion. To me, Dr. J was the greatest player ever. But I ask other people, they say Jordan, some say Kobe, some people say LeBron. It’s always going to be a matter of opinion."
I'm not about to say Shaq's opinion is wrong, but Shaq's opinion is totally wrong. An eight-time First Team All-NBA center could dismiss this as a failed basketball player's analysis of a legend he never saw play in person, and he'd be right, but better men than I have left Erving off their Mount Rushmore entirely.
Sure, Dr. J pioneered above-the-rim basketball — capturing 16 All-Star nods (5 ABA, 11 NBA), four MVP honors (3 ABA, 1 NBA) and three titles (2 ABA, 1 NBA) in the process — but he amassed a third of his 30,026 career points in a watered-down league, never earned NBA All-Defensive honors, submitted sub-par perimeter shooting stats and wasn't even the best player on his own team in his only NBA title run.
Compare Erving's resume to, say, Jordan, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — heck, even Kobe, LeBron and Tim Duncan more recently — and Shaq seems certifiably insane. Recent evidence further supports this notion. Even Dr. J left Dr. J off his own top five, but at least his reasoning behind leaving Michael Jordan off that list is more sound than O'Neal's declaration.
"This is an emotional choice, so there are no analytics associated with it, and as a matter of fact probably the last 50 years are not a part of it, because I made this decision when I was a teenager. I was 14-15, and this is what I saw. And I saw Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor — who is my favorite — Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. That became my top five as a teenager, and they have remained my top five, so even as good as the great ones are, they've got to be on the second team."
Even if Shaq conceded his opinion was shaped by watching Erving as a teenager in the 1980s, Bird and Magic's eight rings that decade might have something to say about it. It's a surprising perspective from O'Neal, a four-time NBA champion who apparently spends a lot of time thinking about his own historical impact on the game, if this somewhat disturbing answer during the Antenna Q&A is any indication.
What do you think happens when you die?
“Hopefully, my wish is to have one of those big mausoleums, on the inside, it would be stadium seating, and as soon as you close the door, all my highlights would come on, and the door locks, so you have to watch twenty minutes of who I was.”
OK, then. Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised by O'Neal's thoughts on the game's greatest player, taking into account his response to Antenna's question, "What’s the best TV show out right now?"
“Maury Povich in the morning, and then I gotta watch First 48. That’s a must, every day. And Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta.”
Granted, "The First 48" is a pretty sweet show, especially given Shaq's love for law enforcement, but remind me again how many Emmys "Maury" and "Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta" have taken home?
More NBA coverage: