Questioning Aristotle

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The NBA Finals are over and Shaquille O’Neal, “The Big Aristotle,” can add another championship ring to his collection. After his journey from Hollywood to South Beach two seasons ago, Shaq boldly promised the Miami fans that he would bring them a title. He fulfilled his promise, but ironically it was not really Shaq that delivered on the guarante. Only through the brilliant play of Dwyane Wade and the outstanding support of Alonzo Mourning and Udonis Haslem did the Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks to secure the NBA championship. Shaq was not the man. Wade was.

Last week on my KNBR radio show, I suggested that perhaps Shaq has never really reached his full potential as a player, that he has never really become as a great a player as he could have been. Boy, did the caller board light up. How dare I make such a comment about one of the most dominant players of all time!

Whoa. Let me state emphatically that I believe O’Neal is one of the greatest centers in the history of the NBA. And I do not deny that he is undoubtedly the most dominant player of this era. However, as good as he is, he should be better.

First, if you look at Shaq’s career statistics, they are indeed impressive, but they don’t really show improvement. Most great players get better in their prime. That hasn’t been the case with Shaq and it is pretty easy to figure out why

When you spend your offseasons cutting rap CDs and making movies, your basketball skills aren’t going to improve. When you don’t work out religiously during the summer, you are also going to gain weight. That was one of the justifiable gripes that Kobe Bryant had about Shaq. The reality is that the big man has not been dedicated and committed to the game the way he should have been.

Second, there is that little problem with free-throw shooting. How can you shoot under 40 percent for a championship series and honestly feel as though you have done your absolute best? No, Shaq has certainly not improved his free-throw shooting, nor has he developed a go-to shot. Further, for a man his size and with his athletic ability, he has never been a dominant rebounder. In his best season, Shaq only averaged a little over 13 boards a game. By comparison, look at Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged 22 caroms a game for his entire career.

Shaq has settled for being the most dominant big man in the league during his career. I have no doubt that had Shaq dedicated himself to the game, he would have become the greatest center ever.

Former Warriors star and Hall of Famer Rick Barry hosts the noon-3 p.m. talk show on KNBR (680 AM). E-mail him at rbarry@examiner.com.

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