- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

The NBA is struggling to transcend the professional neglect of Shaquille O’Neal.

His ever-expanding waistline led to the premature exit of the Lakers and a quality-deficient postseason.

To the eventual champion goes a footnote: O’Neal was eliminated from the chase at the dinner table.

You can’t believe everything you read, starting with O’Neal’s listed weight in the 2002-2003 edition of the Sporting News Official NBA Register.

The 315 apparently is intended to be the one gag line in the statistic-filled book. The same publication listed O’Neal’s weight as 301 in his rookie season.

The suggestion that O’Neal has gained only 14 pounds in 11 seasons is material for Baghdad Bob.

O’Neal appears to be a whole lot closer to 400 pounds than to 315, although your guess is as good as anyone else’s until he pulls over to a truck-weighing station on the interstate.

The 31-year-old O’Neal is too young to be on the downward slope of his career.

A fourth consecutive NBA championship was his to celebrate if he had not transferred his athletic hunger to the all-you-can-eat salad bar.

There is now too much of him, and it showed in so many ways during the season.

O’Neal no longer had the lateral movement to be a dominant help-side defender. He no longer had the same stamina, the repeat thrusts on offense, the capacity to miss a shot, get the rebound, put it up again, rebound again and finish the play.

O’Neal was quicker to yield to others because of fatigue. Even his willingness to set up as close to the basket as possible was not as firm, because getting good position takes energy.

O’Neal often seemed to be conserving his energy. He was content to pick his spots. He was still a colossal force. No one defender really can do anything with him, except make him burn his energy, and a lack of energy is what beat O’Neal. He beat himself.

O’Neal planted the seeds of failure last summer following a third championship. He rested his big toe. He basked in the bright lights of Los Angeles. He had a good time. Who could deny him that? He waited until just the start of the regular season to have toe surgery, and that is where it all started to go wrong for the Lakers.

The team was mostly indifferent, the same as O’Neal, and only a late push allowed the Lakers to finish with a 50-32 record. They cut too many corners and ended up writing the book on how to be discarded before it is your time.

Despite their season-long listlessness, O’Neal and the Lakers were not that far away, certainly not as far as it seemed in the fourth quarter of Game6 against the Spurs.

If Robert Horry’s 3-pointer at the end of Game5 had gone down, the Lakers might have avoided their unceremonious departure. It was that close for the Lakers, just as it was last season, only Horry converted a 3-pointer at the end of Game5 against the Kings.

The seven-game series with the Kings should have been enough to encourage the good work habits of both O’Neal and the Lakers. It was their most serious challenge during their three-year run, and yet, all it seemed to do was give them a false sense of invincibility.

O’Neal and the Lakers figured, and with some justification, that once they flipped on the switch in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, the opposition would get a lump in its throat. The Spurs finally buried that notion, which most likely will lead to their second championship in five seasons.

Sorry, fans of the Nets. Beating up on the Eastern Conference is unpersuasive. But good luck in the NBA Finals. You never know, especially with O’Neal out of the equation.

Tim Duncan may be the NBA’s MVP, though only in the clinical sense. O’Neal exists in his own category.

If O’Neal feels an inclination to reassert his dominance next season, as he should, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

For now, Mitch Kupchak and the Zen master are evaluating the quality of the complementary parts around O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Their concern is valid. Personnel moves are necessary.

But the No. 1 priority before the Lakers is addressing the eating habits of O’Neal.

A leaner O’Neal would be more active, plus more useful in the years ahead if the stress on his lower limbs is relieved.

As the NBA’s most dominant center ever, O’Neal has it in his power to claim a few more championships.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide