Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why Did Shaq Root For Kobe?

It’s not that he is rooting for Kobe as much as he rooting against Stan Van Gundy. Shaquille O’Neal, one of the greatest, one of the most charismatic, one of the most dominant ever, has proven again why he is one of the wisest men in the world, let alone in the world of basketball.

With the Orlando Magic down 3-1, which quite possibly could have been 3-1 in their favor, Stan Van Gundy took the blame for the two narrow, heartbreaking losses, and Shaq’s comment of Stan Van being a “choker” and “letting his team down” resonates in the air.

For Shaq to score points on this, his latest dramatic public episode, it helps him in a variety of ways. Championship contending teams will look to him for veteran leadership to bring on in his last year of basketball next year. His media career has the doors wide open because not only does he have that entertaining stage presence, but his analysis proves reliable, which is absolutely essential in the world of sports broadcasting, especially when it leaves the fans wanting more. But most importantly, Shaq’s legacy will conclude positively, not just because he had an incredible statistical season, and not because he shared Co-MVP All-Star Honors with Kobe Bryant, but because his read on Stan Van Gundy was correct.

Let’s be realistic, Shaq knew he had no chance to win the championship this year with the Suns, and he probably knew they wouldn’t make the playoffs either at the time the Suns played the Magic and Stan Van accused Shaq of “flopping”. To most basketball fans, that “flopping” was sheer entertainment because it was just fun to watch Shaq as the recipient for once, trying to act out a flop. In a way, he was even conceding to Dwight Howard that he is the next great center in this league. Pass down the torch. After all, they both began their careers in Orlando, both have been referenced to Superman, both are very fun-loving entertainers, both are extremely dominant centers, and neither can shoot free throws. Shaq knows his legacy is nearing its end as a player, and is simply trying to enjoy himself as much as possible. Another championship would be delicious, but Shaq understands he has had a magnificent career and will go down in history as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

So then why did he deliver this big blow to Stan Van Gundy, saying he’s a “choker”? It’s because Shaq read Stan Van Gundy like the two were in a heads-up Hold ‘Em match. Shaq really had nothing to lose. His playing career has just a year remaining, and another title, another early playoff exit, or another good season despite missing the playoffs – no matter which happens, Shaq’s legacy as one of the great ones won’t be too affected. (Although if he has 5, he’ll probably have more lifetime conversations with Magic Johnson.)

But Shaq knew that Stan Van Gundy’s 3-Of-A-Kind in Orlando could not possibly defeat the Full House in Lakerland. The majority of the country definitely predicted that Orlando would not win the championship this season. The simple fact that they made the Finals alone only helps Shaq’s case, because Orlando has had every opportunity to be up 3-1. If this isn’t “choking” at its max, then I don’t know what else is.

It’s like Stan Van Gundy raised the issue of Shaq bluffing, I mean, “flopping”, and Shaq just re-raised All-In, knowing he had nothing to lose. We did not witness much more verbal maliciousness after that as Shaq geared for the off-season and Stan Van Gundy prepared for the playoffs. Van Gundy simply brushed the drama aside and said he’d like to focus on his team and the playoffs. That was another way of buying time to decide if he wanted to call Shaq or not. But Van Gundy took too much time and Shaq called clock on him. Well, the time has almost run out for Jeff Van Gundy’s brother. (You know I had to reference Jeff Van Gundy somewhere in here!)

Like most professional poker players will say, poker is a game of skill, and not luck. Well, Shaq certainly didn’t take a gamble when he called out Stan Van. Shaq’s wisdom is his skill. By successfully calling out Stan Van Gundy, and being the first to do so, Shaq caused a massacre. Marcin Gortat in the Polish papers. Dwight Howard in the Boston series. Stan Van Gundy to himself! “This one’s gonna haunt me forever…”

Kazaam! Move over Mr. Miagi. Shaq is wiser! Heck, I didn’t think about it earlier, but he can write his own book and it will spread like wildfire. Really, time and time again, Shaq illustrates the most brilliant of stories for our pleasure. I recall in 2006 when Shaq claimed Kobe was Sonny, and Dwyane Wade was Michael. Shaq was, of course, Don Corleone. It seemed so plausible and thought-provoking an analogy that we started comparing Kobe and Wade, without even second-guessing that Shaq was indeed the Godfather.

Shaq in his heart knows he couldn’t have won three championships in L.A. without Kobe or one in Miami without Dwyane Wade. But the critics will always state the opposite, that Kobe wouldn’t have won without Shaq, and neither would have Dwyane Wade. Shaq’s legacy has never been questioned. We know how great he has been to the NBA.

But Shaquille O’Neal as a man, like all men, needs to reinforce his credibility ever so often. And he does it so flawlessly that it begs the question, “Does Shaq really calculate his comments so wisely and intentionally?” I believe he does.

In fact, I urge you to look for the knockout punch from Shaq after the Lakers win the series. Something along the lines of, “I told you so.”

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