Maybe it’s the fact Dwight Howard is the star player at center for the Orlando Magic. Maybe it’s the fact D12 dons the same “Superman” nickname Shaquille O’Neal did during his glory days. Or maybe it’s the fact Shaq sees a small part of himself in Howard. Whatever the case may be, the former Magic big man has been on a personal jihad against the current Magic big man all season and was quoted recently as saying it will be a “travesty” if Dwight bails on Orlando.
Before moving forward, however, here’s what we do know about one of the NBA’s oddest and rocky relationships.
1. Their “situation” spans back far beyond this season. The only difference is this year Shaq’s in front of a camera to voice his opinion much more often. An opinion, might I add, that had him proclaiming to whoever would listen on TNT that Andrew Bynum was better than Dwight Howard. In a league that features maybe five good centers at best, Dwight is the pinnacle and it’s not even close. Now if Yao Ming never suffers a string of injuries, then we’re having a totally different discussion. But he’s retired and Dwight’s sheer athleticism make him a top five player overall in the league. That, and he could very well be the most durable player in basketball (he’s only missed seven games his entire career).
2. Shaq’s decision to leave Orlando in the summer of 1996 basically changed the course of NBA history. Who knows what happens if he stays with Penny on the Magic signing a long term deal. The Lakers probably don’t trade Vlade Divac for a young, unproven Kobe Bryant who, in turn, stays in Charlotte (and maybe the Hornets remain there as well even with George Shinn screwing the franchise and city over, almost literally). Pending Penny miraculously stays healthy thanks to the power of destiny, there’s a shooter’s chance Orlando never ends up with the #1 pick in 2004. Yes, and if you cannot tell, I love “what-if” scenarios. Sue me.
So, through however many degrees of separation, Shaq made this bed and now he refuses to sleep in it. From a historical standpoint, they’ll never been another freak of nature in a center like what we saw in the late 1990′s/early 2000′s O’Neal. We just won’t. Yet, that still doesn’t take away from the fact Dwight can be flat out scary at times when it clicks in his head and/or his teammates convince themselves shooting anywhere inside the three point line is actually beneficial.
This is the reason O’Neal claiming Dwight leaving Orlando would be a “travesty” and that “Howard’s situation is not like his was when he left for the Lakers in 1996, because he said he wanted to stay with the Magic but had a better option” rubs me the wrong way. Respect given to the Jeremy Lin phenomenon and Chris Paul’s love triangle with the two Los Angeles teams, but D12′s future has been, and will continue to be, THE storyline. It’s been confusing and outright frustrating at times to hear rumors of desired destinations, failed trades and Dwight doing everything except having a pow-wow with Mickey Mouse, Goofy and the Seven Dwarfs on Treasure Mountain. But a definitive difference between Shaq’s 1996 and Dwight’s 2012 – both Olympic years if that adds anything to the discussion – is the coverage.
We’re living in a world where a player’s last year of his contract is essentially his free agent period. Call me crazy or a prisoner of the moment, but this sort of near stalking-like behavior to “break the story” wasn’t present nearly as much some 15-16 years ago. Credit it as “The Curse Of Summer 2010,” but since the greatest free agent class in basketball – possibly sports – history all made their “decisions” on where to play, a star surviving the final year of his contract with no focus from the media in regards to his future is about as feasible as TMZ not breaking the next big celebrity death. Who’s to say O’Neal’s contract doesn’t suffer the same treatment if the scrutiny was tailored to today’s standards? And keep in mind, the Bulls went 72-10 in the 1995-96 season, so Shaq’s future, while important, could’ve possibly fell on the back burner regardless as Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and
Randy Brown company continued to shred history books.
Dwight’s future is something I’ve given up trying to decipher ever since the Magic’s former CEO Vander Weide “Marvin’s Room’d” the guy. Part of me believes he’ll end up in Brooklyn with Deron Williams, or Dallas with Deron Williams or somewhere with Deron Williams because that combo just makes too much sense. Then again, another part of me wouldn’t be surprised if remained in Orlando. The new arena is top of the line from what I hear plus the Magic can offer him reportedly $30M more than any other team in basketball. And $30M is hard to leave sitting on the table in any situation.
Then again, there’s also a small part of me that would want to see him go to the Lakers just to witness Shaq spontaneously combust live on TNT. Almost.