It’s not unheard of for Shaquille O’Neal to take a pre-game or post-game jab or two at an opposing big man, and such was the case heading into last night’s game with the Magic. In addition to the quote in the pre-game section two articles down, the 14-time All Star mumbled a few more words of antagonism in regards to Orlando’s newest great big man, Dwight Howard.
“He has to at least take them out of the second round before he calls himself ‘Superman.’ I am the original son of Jarel. I am proven…It’s good to have dunks and do all that, but I was the first guy to do that. So my thing is, he’s going to have to at least take them out of the second round. It’s been six years. There should be no excuses. You want to be the man, be the man. Take them somewhere that they’ve never been. They’ve already been to the Finals. I took them to the Finals. You want to be the man, you’ve got to win it.” “My record speaks for itself. By the end of the year, I’ll be top five in scoring. Not bad for a skinny kid that came here in 1992…When it’s all said and done I’ll either have four or five. That’s a fact. When I retire from the game, I’ll either have four or five championships, period. There’s nothing else to talk about. So it really doesn’t bother me who tries to take a name. We all know who the real ‘S’ (is), but I don’t have to talk. I don’t have to talk.” Phoenix center Shaquille O’Neal
The “skinny kid” line made me crack up a little bit. Maybe the “not-so-fat kid” would have worked better. And in regards to his first quote, this is only Dwight’s fifth year, to be fair. Dwight’s reaction was a mix of disbelief, and disappointment in the Phoenix center.
“Some of the things I hear, I am shocked to hear him say that. But I can’t stop him from saying anything. It’s just, I just wouldn’t expect that coming from him. The only thing I would expect is that he would help me improve my game, and that’s it, like all the other big guys: Hakeem (Olajuwon) and Pat Ewing and (Marcus) Camby and all those guys who’ve tried to help me improve. Taking shots at somebody else, I wouldn’t do that.” Orlando center Dwight Howard
The game turned out to be a very exciting one, coming down to the wire until Orlando heated up inside of four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, closing the game on a 23-8 run. The much-anticipated match-up of the two Supermen was put on hold for most of the first half, as Dwight was sidelined early with three fouls. Marcin Gortat stepped in wonderfully in his absence, but Shaq was on the bench for most of that time. In the first half, Shaq was displaying his physical dominance over Howard, pushing him wherever he wanted to and shaking Dwight’s confidence. But the 35 minutes eventually caught up to the future Hall-of-Famer, and Shaq was sucking wind for most of the second half. He even resorted to flopping, something that the big man has been vehemently opposed to his entire career.
“I was shocked. Seriously, shocked. And very disappointed because he knows what it’s like. Let’s stand up and play like men, and I think our guy did that tonight.” Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy, former coach of O’Neal in Miami
By the end of the game, Shaq had surpassed his season averages in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals, but still came up on the short end of the stick. He finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Dwight posted 21 points and 8 boards in 30 minutes. Each of the big men received a technical foul in the hard-fought game. Shaq left Orlando by saying, “I’m really too old to be trying to outscore 18-year-olds.” Another pearl of wisdom when referring to the 23-year-old Howard. No less, Dwight shouldn’t have been surprised by Shaq’s verbal antics. Over the course of time, O’Neal has, in a way, self-appointed himself the ‘master of big men.’ And honestly, he has earned the right to talk the way he has. He’s arguably the best center in the history of professional basketball. He has averaged an incredible 24.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game over his 17-year career. And look at it this way, Dwight. At least he didn’t brand you the “RuPaul of big men.”