With Shaquille O’Neal set to have his jersey retired and sent up to the rafters at Staples Center at halftime of Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, Triple Threat asked some of the current Lakers who encountered the “Most Dominant Ever” throughout their careers to reflect on their experiences.
“As a player, when they ask me ‘who’s the hardest player to go against,’ it was [Shaq],” Pau Gasol confessed without hesitation. “His size, his strength, his power…it was too much to handle.”
Gasol went on to say that playing against Shaq was not only difficult during the game, but the physical toll of consistently bumping against a human body that seemed unnaturally massive was mentally and physically punishing.
“After every game you played against him, your body would feel it,” the Spaniard said.
For a different perspective, current Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni had the pleasure of coaching O’Neal in Phoenix when “The Big Shaqtus” was roaming the Arizona desert.
“He does everything in a grand scale. He was fun to be with,” D’Antoni said of coaching O’Neal. “One of the best ever, one of the best big men ever… [he] changed basketball.”
D’Antoni gushed about his personal experience coaching O’Neal, but as the conversation continued, the Lakers coach explained the difficulties and special preparation Shaq commanded from an opposing coaching standpoint.
“If you’re preparing against his team, you’re talking about Shaq 90 percent of the time: How to not leave his body, when you’re going to double team him. Are you going to do this? Are you going to do that?
“There are very few guys you spend the whole scouting meeting talking about,” D’Antoni said. “He’s one of those guys.”
D’Antoni’s shift from joy of reminiscing about life with Shaq on his team to the exhausted talk about coaching against Shaq was possibly the greatest compliment the coach could give Shaq on his big night. For the Lakers, eight years with Shaq were an incredible ride. For opponents, it was misery every time Shaq came to visit.
Truthfully, Shaq could and probably should have had more than the four championships he finished with, but sometimes, championships do not tell the story of how great a player is. Shaq was greater than four rings, and just about everyone who played with or against him can tell a story about how dominant Shaq truly was.