Shaquille O’Neal is seen by many as the most physically dominant and imposing player the NBA has ever produced. Knowing this, you’d think O’Neal would be a lock as a top 10 all-time player on any list. ESPN recently released its ranking of the top 75 NBA players (76 to be exact) for the league’s 75th-anniversary team, and Shaq was not included in the top 10.
While there is no shame in being ranked as the 11th best player in the history of the NBA, there is reason to wonder why Shaq didn’t make the top 10. Some might even argue that because of his sheer dominance, O’Neal is one of the five best to ever play in the league. I wouldn’t go that far, but the conversation for Shaq being top 10 is undoubtedly open for debate.
One aspect of this conversation in ranking the all-time greats and who belongs where is that we usually leave out whom, exactly, that player is replacing. For example, if the consensus is that Shaq belongs in the top 10 on ESPN’s list, then who are we removing from the top 10? Kobe Bryant at No. 10? Oscar Robertson at No. 9? Somehow, we have these roundtable discussions, and debate shows droning on and on about this topic, yet rarely do we hear who they’d take out of 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 Johnson, and Wilt Chamberlain. The only way to squeeze O’Neal into that top five is to move Chamberlain back because he didn’t win enough championships. Individual accolades between the two players are close, but Wilt retired holding (and still does) so many NBA scoring records that he gets the nod over Shaq.
Some of you might make the argument that O’Neal could replace Larry Bird (No. 7) in the top 10. I’m not ready to go there, in all honesty. Bird is the last player to win three consecutive league MVP awards (1984-1986) and one of only three to ever accomplish that feat. Not Jordan, LeBron, nor Magic can say that. Chamberlain and Bill Russell are the only other players along with Bird to achieve this feat.
Ultimately, I think this came down to the length of O’Neal’s dominance in the league. The early days in Orlando were tremendous for Shaq, but Hakeem Olajuwon was the best center in the NBA during O’Neals first few years. Shaq had no answers for prime Hakeem; go youtube it. Olajuwon was incredible. From 1999 to 2003, Shaq was hands down 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 during his career undoubtedly hurts O’Neal in this type of discussion.
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 most, maybe you move Kobe Bryant and O’Neal up one spot and drop Oscar Robertson back two slots to number 11. Other than that, I just 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 Lakers and Celtics legends, for that matter. The only players in this top-10 to never suit up for the Lakers or Celtics are Jordan, Robertson, and Tim Duncan. As for O’Neal, he’s still one of the more prominent personalities to ever step onto an NBA court. And regardless of where he ranks on any list, he’s an all-time great no matter how you slice it.