I’ll get the big gripe out of the way early.
He was 7 feet tall, give or take a centimeter. He weighed 300 and a lot of change. He was amazingly athletic with really quick feet. He was, in sum, the single most physically imposing NBA person to play in the post-Wilt world.
So, how did Shaquille O’Neal not even once lead the league in rebounding?
OK, rant over.
That little flaw in his game aside, I hereby declare it to be fitting and proper that starting with the enshrinement ceremony on Sept. 9, Shaquille O’Neal will be able to identify himself as a full-fledged Hall of Famer. I mean, nobody’s perfect, right?
Among those making acceptance speeches will be another fascinatingly flawed NBA celeb. Like, who didn’t have a firm opinion on Allen Iverson?
Shaq and A.I. are the unquestioned headliners of a 10-person 2016 class. Let’s take a look.
1. Shaquille O’Neal
His résumé is topped off by four championship rings, three with the Lakers (2000, 2001, 2002) and the last with Miami (2006). He also made 14 appearances on a postseason All-NBA team with eight firsts, two seconds, and four thirds. He knew what he was and what he wasn’t when the ball found its way into his hands. None of this latter-day “stretch” stuff for Shaq. He lived to dunk, and dunk he did, leading the league in field goal percentage 10 times, with a full-season high of .609 in 2008-09.
Shaq was the ultimate larger-than-life NBA star. The sheer size spoke for itself. Beyond that, Shaq had a large personality. He was that rare big man who was accessible to fans. There has never been an NBA big man with a persona anything like Shaq’s.
So, how good was he? I’d say he’s in the argument as a top-five center. Bill Russell/Wilt Chamberlain/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the top three in an order that will forever be debated. Next comes Hakeem Olajuwon. If you want to make Shaq No. 5, I won’t argue.
2. Allen Iverson
You want to talk about dynamic forces of nature, let’s talk Allen Iverson, who is in the conversation as the greatest little man in NBA history. Notice I didn’t say “coachable” or “lovable.”
And if the question is, “Who’s the toughest player in NBA history?” the answer may very well be Allen Iverson. He put that little body on the line night after night, and he did so at length, averaging 41.1 minutes a game for his career. Did he take a lot of shots? Well, yeah. He four times led the league in field goals missed. But that doesn’t bother me. Guess I’m Old School. Anyway, he deserves to be in the Hall just for what he did in 2001, when he led the Sixers to the Finals, and then scored 48 in a Game 1 triumph over the Lakers. The rest of the starting five? Dikembe Mutombo (OK, he was pretty good), Jumaine Jones, Tyrone Hill, and Aaron McKie. See what I mean?
3. Yao Ming
Yao gets in via the Hall’s “International Committee” and who can contest that? Though not the first Chinese player in the league, he was by far the best and had an enormous impact on the great popularity the game enjoys in his homeland. Injuries cut short his NBA career, but let the record show he finished with career averages of 19 points and nine rebounds per game. His first meeting with Shaq attracted 200 million Chinese viewers. That says it all.
4. Sheryl Swoopes
A slam dunk selection. NCAA champ at Texas Tech, four-time WNBA champ, and five-time first team All-WNBA choice.
5. Zelmo Beaty
A Veterans Committee pick. A rock-solid 6-9 center for the NBA Hawks and Lakers, plus the ABA Utah Stars. To me, he’s a bit shy of Hall status, but hey, perhaps he’s better than I thought.
6. Tom Izzo
Nobody’s arguing this one. He’s had seven Final Fours, one national title, seven Big Ten regular-season titles, and five Big Ten tournament titles. And while he’ll take them, of course, he usually doesn’t need McDonald’s All-Americans to get it done.
7. John McLendon
“You mean he wasn’t already in?” That was the general reaction for a man whose extensive coaching résumé includes three NAIA titles at Tennessee State at a time when African-Americans were not considered for “real” jobs. He was the first African-American to coach an American pro team when, in 1961, George Steinbrenner hired him to coach the Cleveland Pipers in the short-lived ABL, five years before Bill Russell took over the Celtics.
8. Darell Garretson
A premier NBA referee whose résumé was enhanced by being a supervisor with great influence, for better or worse, in his later days.
9. Cum Posey
He becomes the first person named to both the Baseball and Basketball Halls of Fame. He was a noted player, manager, and owner (the legendary Homestead Grays) in the baseball Negro Leagues. But who knew he was also an acclaimed basketball player in the early part of the 20th century? I sure didn’t.
10. Jerry Reinsdorf
No offense, but they got the wrong Jerry. Yes, Mr. Reinsdorf did own the Bulls during their six championships, but it was GM Jerry Krause who surrounded Michael Jordan with supporting casts worthy of a champ on two separate occasions. He’d better acknowledge this in his speech.
Ah, well, perhaps someday they’ll get the right panel and do right by the great Maurice Cheeks.