- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

Shaquille O'Neal is ridiculous, ludicrous, a freak among freaks.
He is just too big, too strong, too everything. There is nothing anyone can do against him. There is nothing Dikembe Mutombo can do to thwart O'Neal, except stick his nose in there and try his best, which he is doing.
Mutombo is the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. He might as well be Greg Ostertag against O'Neal. Matt Geiger and Todd MacCulloch look even sillier against O'Neal. These are large men, too. These are 7-footers. Yet they have no capacity to neutralize O'Neal. They have nothing. Nada. Zip.
O'Neal is an equal-opportunity dunker. He dunks on Mutombo's head as easily as he dunks on the head of anyone else. Get in line. He will dunk on your head as well.
If only O'Neal were limited to the dunk shot, that would be taken as a sign of encouragement by the opposition. But he has the total package. He has an extraordinary amount of agility for someone his size. He has spin moves to the basket. He has a jump hook. He also is an excellent passer.
If you run an extra defender or two at him, he finds an open teammate standing behind the 3-point line or he hits a cutter going through the three-second lane.
O'Neal has evolved as a player in his nine seasons in the NBA. At one time, he was a player with one overwhelming advantage, his brute strength. Now he is so much more than that. He has skill, vision, an understanding of the game, a repertoire that is unstoppable, at least as the NBA rules are presently enforced.
Did you see his hang-in-the-air scoop shot just before halftime in Game 4 on Wednesday night? It seems he has some of Michael Jordan's creativity in him as well. He was fouled on the play, too. The foul was not called, which is hardly new. Referees, almost out of sympathy, permit a certain number of fouls to go uncalled against O'Neal.
No one feels Goliath's pain.
It is almost as if his sly maturation as a player, as one of the most dominating centers ever, is trivialized because of his stunning physical presence.
O'Neal served his apprenticeship in the NBA before reaching this point. He endured his share of postseason disappointments. Even his first three seasons with the Lakers ended with a sense of underachievement hanging over the franchise.
Yes, O'Neal still remains a basket case at the free throw line, and a good thing, too. If he didn't have that flaw, the Lakers would be about as close to unbeatable as a team could be.
The 76ers won Game 1, in part, because of 12 missed free throws by O'Neal. He missed another eight free throw attempts in Game 4, which contributed to the measure of hope about the 76ers as they mounted a rally in the fourth quarter.
Here's the discouraging truth before 28 of the 29 teams in the NBA: O'Neal is 29 years old, Kobe Bryant 22.
The Lakers are not going away anytime soon. How many more NBA championships are in their future? Who knows? There's no reason to suspect the Lakers won't be in the championship hunt the next five or six seasons, as long as O'Neal and Bryant stay healthy and cognizant of their complementary abilities.
The only wrinkle before the Lakers is the one before the rest of the NBA, the implementation of the zone defense next season.
It is simple to suggest that teams might be more inclined to cause a human traffic jam around O'Neal.
To an extent, the 76ers tried just that in Game 4, with limited effectiveness. The Lakers' 3-point shooters were left so open in some cases, they could check the weather conditions before releasing the shot.
As for Bryant, he barely rated a postgame mention. He finished with only 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, just one assist short of a triple-double.
The Lakers are about to claim their second consecutive NBA title after going 14-1 in the playoffs. They have eliminated all the midseason concerns, along with a series of so-called legitimate challengers, and so much of it is because of O'Neal, the immovable object near the basket.
You can't do anything with the man, not a darn thing. He's just too imposing, too skilled, too athletic.
It is his world, the NBA is, and it promises to be his the next few seasons.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide