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Sean Deveney

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    E X C L U S I V E

    A N A L Y S I S

    Part 1: Shaq's size a blessing and a curse

    May 28, 2002 Print it

  • Part 2

    Perhaps the lasting legacy of Shaquille O'Neal will be so simple, we will forget all the high-falutin' bravado, lowbrow mewling and general nonsense that seems to come before, during and after every Lakers game. Maybe, when the purple-and-gold's oversized No. 34 jersey is busy testing the architectural stamina of some I-beam in the Staples Center rafters, maybe then we will forget who was bumping whom, who was resorting to milksop defensive tactics and who was making outrageous foul calls. When the epitaph of O'Neal's career is written, perhaps there will be only his statistics, his accomplishments, and five words: "He was big. Real big."

    Let's face it, that's what all this Shaq hubbub of the past week has been about. O'Neal, who pitched in 27 points and 18 rebounds in the Lakers' astounding come-from-behind Game 4 victory in the Western Conference finals, is bigger than everyone else, bigger than any of the league's previous greats. Wilt Chamberlain was 275 pounds. George Mikan was 245. Bill Russell was a waif, a mere 220. The Lakers peg O'Neal at 335, which might be close to his actual weight if we're talking kilograms or stones. Even at that listing, he far outweighs the runner-up on the list of NBA heavies, 314-pound DeSagana Diop.

    Heck, one scout says O'Neal weighed in at 382 before the playoffs, which would make him the heaviest athlete in major professional sports. Hockey's Steve McKenna is officially 255 and baseball's Calvin Pickering tips in at 278. The blubberiest NFL player, Cowboys lineman Aaron Gibson, is 380 pounds, making him at least worthy of the same scale as O'Neal. Little wonder Burger King's Shaq pack is a bacon cheeseburger, fries (with melted cheese for dipping) and a Coke, not a grilled chicken sandwich, a side of arugula and a Crystal Light.

    As Magic vice president Pat Williams, who was the Orlando general manager when the team made O'Neal the No. 1 pick of the 1992 draft, says, "For Shaq, a balanced meal is a Whopper in the left and another Whopper in the right. If there's lettuce on it, that's a salad."

    Being a big guy in a skinny guy's game creates problems, most obviously for the opposing team -- in this case, the Kings. When O'Neal wants to enter the lane, he simply can bull through his defender, who can do little except absorb the blow and try to keep his feet. Sitting in front of his locker after a battle with O'Neal last week, Kings center Vlade Divac pointed to a red welt on his shoulder. "That one was from his head, I think," Divac says. He pointed to another, close to his chest. "His elbow, here. I know he can't feel it, but I can."

    Divac's backup, Scot Pollard, compares keeping position on O'Neal to tipping over a cow. "Try pushing on a wall," Pollard says. "That's what it is like." Sacramento forward Chris Webber describes the sounds that come from Divac when defending O'Neal in the post as a series of guttural moans along the lines of, "Oomph! Ugh! Argh!"

    But, though size is O'Neal's blessing, it is also his curse, and that became more evident as the tightly contested Western Conference finals wore on. Divac has done whatever he can, including hard fouls on O'Neal when necessary and hitting the deck with a flourish to extract whistles from referees. It has worked, for the most part, as the Kings got the O'Neal into foul trouble in games 2 and 3, and won both. O'Neal, frustrated, said of Divac's combination of physicality and acting, "If the outcome is going to be predicted WWF-style, let me know so I'm not out their busting my butt for nothing."

    The extremes the Kings have gone to in defending O'Neal are a consequence of his extreme size. In a way, those extremes are an acknowledgment of O'Neal's dominance, a team admitting that since O'Neal bends the rules of metabolism and body types, the rules of professional basketball must be bent in response. Nearly every time O'Neal touches the ball, a discriminating referee could find a foul to call on the defender. The same referee probably could find an offensive foul to call on O'Neal, as well. The key for opponents is to make the second option happen five or six times in a game, giving O'Neal something to worry about. When refs' decisions are made, O'Neal is not usually the sympathetic figure. Nobody roots for Goliath.

    "He's the big guy," says teammate Rick Fox. "Calls are going to go against the big guy."

  • Part 2

    more from The Sporting News

    EXPERT Voice of the Fan Fans are critical of the officials in the Lakers-Kings series

    EXPERT Sean Deveney Inside Dish: Wang's days in Dallas could be numbered

    Shaq's criticisms; Kobe's illness; Webber's leadership; Celtics' needs; more


    Email sean


    EXPERT Voice of the Fan
  • Fans are critical of the officials in the Lakers-Kings series
    NBA fans are crying foul after Game 4 of the Lakers-Kings series, and they say the refs have to be more consistent and fair.

    EXPERT Sean Deveney
  • Inside Dish: Wang's days in Dallas could be numbered
    Wang Zhizhi may have to stay in China instead of returning to Dallas, Boston succeeds because Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker are friends, plus more.

    Mailbag: Shaq's criticisms; Kobe's illness; Webber's leadership; Celtics' needs; more
    Bill answers your questions about Shaq's criticism of the officials, a dream Bulls-Lakers matchup, Chris Webber's leadership and more.

    EXPERT Mike Sullivan
  • New Jersey-based Playaz doubles its pleasure
    Two squads from the Playaz Basketball Club come out with titles at the talent-rich Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions in North Carolina.

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