Shaquille O’Neal is considered by many to be the most physically dominant and imposing player the NBA has ever produced. Knowing this, you’d think O’Neal would rank as a top 10 player of all time on any list. ESPN recently released the league’s 75th anniversary team rankings of the top 75 players (76, to be exact) and Shaq was not included in the top 10.
While there’s no shame in being ranked as the 11th best player in NBA history, there’s reason to wonder why Shaq didn’t make the top 10. Some even argue that O’Neal is one of the five best ever in the league due to his sheer dominance. I wouldn’t go that far, but the conversation that Shaq is top 10 is undoubtedly open to discussion.
One aspect of this conversation in ranking the all-time greats and who belongs where is that we usually leave out who exactly is replacing that player. For example, if the consensus is that Shaq belongs in the top 10 of ESPN’s list, who are we removing from the top 10? Kobe Bryant at number 10? Oscar Robertson at number 9? Somehow we have these roundtables and debate shows that go on and on about this topic, but we rarely hear who would take them off their list so the other player can be inserted.
It’s hard to squeeze Shaq into this top five no matter how hard we try. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnsonand Wilt Chamberlain. The only way to squeeze O’Neal into that top five is to bring Chamberlain back for not winning enough championships. Individual honors between the two players are close, but Wilt retired with (and still holds) so many NBA scoring records that he gets the nod over Shaq.
Some of you might argue that O’Neal could replace Larry Bird (No. 7) in the top 10. Frankly, I’m not ready to go there. Bird is the last player to win three consecutive league MVP awards (1984-1986) and one of only three to ever achieve that feat. Jordan, LeBron and Magic can’t say that. Chamberlain and Bill Russell are the only other players along with Bird to have achieved this feat.
In the end I think it was because of the length of O’Neal’s dominance in the competition. The early days in Orlando were great for Shaq, but Hakeem Olajuwon was the best center in the NBA in the early years of O’Neals. Shaq had no answers for prime Hakeem† go youtube it. Olajuwon was incredible. From 1999 to 2003, Shaq was without a doubt the most dominant player in the NBA. Three championships and three Finals MVPs in a row is proof enough for me. But only winning one league MVP in his career undoubtedly hurts O’Neal in these kinds of discussions.
Shaq had a phenomenal career, but I don’t think I can bring myself to say he deserves to be in the top 10. At the most, maybe you’ll move Kobe Bryant and O’Neal up one spot and Oscar Robertson two spots back to number 11. Other than that, I don’t think the Lakers should get another player in the top 10. Sorry Lakers nation. But I mean, the top 10 is already littered with legends from Lakers and Celtics. The only players in this top-10 who will never qualify for the Lakers or Celtics are Jordan, Robertson and Tim Duncan. As for O’Neal, he is still one of the most prominent personalities to ever step on an NBA court. And no matter where he’s on a list, he’s an all-time great no matter how you slice him.