For his first and only Dime cover story in Dime #38 (December 2007/January 2008), we wanted to get Shaquille O’Neal‘s take on his legacy, the new crop of NBA big men waiting in the wings and some of the most pressing issues facing the League, and basketball in general, at the time. I spoke to Shaq towards the end of the exhibition season one day after practice. His Heat squad was facing an uncertain future, knowing that Dwyane Wade would be out until at least mid-November, and the interview took place shortly before the team jettisoned Antoine Walker to Minnesota for Ricky Davis in an effort to keep afloat until Wade came back…
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Dime: For your cover shoot, you had a specific theme in mind. You wanted to be portrayed as “The Godfather” of the NBA. Why did you pick that premise?
Shaq: We all like those movies growing up â€“ Godfather, Scarface, movies like that. That theme is big with me. I’m in charge. I have an RV with Godfather and Scarface stuff painted all over it that I drove myself from Orlando to LSU for a football game this year. People damn near ran off the road when they saw me.
Dime: How does the Godfather theme relate to you in terms of basketball and the NBA?
Shaq: I’ve paid my dues in this game to become the most dominant big man in NBA history. I came in and took out all of the great centers standing in my way, from Ewing to David Robinson to Hakeem Olajuwon. And now all of these young guys have come in looking to take me out, doing whatever they can to take me out, whining and crying. But it’s not happening.
Dime: Who, specifically?
Shaq: Yao Ming, Dwight Howard, guys like that. But it’s not so much them whining. It’s their coaches and their team owners. They’ve had to change the rules of the game just to deal with me.
Dime: How so?
Shaq: The Board of Governors meets every year to go over the rules, and every year they only have one problem â€“ and that’s me. Their teams can’t stop me so they have to come up with ways to change the game to try and stop me. The way they look at it, the rules might not be good for me, but I’m just one player. I’m just one player, while 200, 300 other players benefit. For example, I’m the only player in the League that gets fronted and backed night in and night out.
Dime: Has it worked?
Shaq: Not yet. Maybe when I’m 50.
Dime: Do you think you get the credit you deserve for your skills?
Shaq: No. Absolutely not. Because of the rules, I can’t showcase my skills. And because I don’t show my skills, people don’t think I can do it. But I have the spins and the crossovers and all that Hakeem stuff. I’m programmed to do it all, baby. If tomorrow, David Stern said no more double- and triple-teams on me, people would be like “Holy shit! Shaq can do that?!”
Dime: What do you think of the state of basketball today? Not just as it pertains to the NBA, but to basketball in general.
Shaq: I think the state of the NBA is good right now. Every single team has a superstar or a potential superstar in the making. It’s a lot like when I grew up watching the NBA. I think college basketball is boring. High school is a little more exciting these days, but it still isn’t where it needs to be.
Dime: Why do you think basketball at the college and high school levels is suffering?
Shaq: You hear this all the time, but it’s true: there’s a lack of skill. Kids don’t grow up learning the fundamentals, and then they find themselves in the NBA. It’s like sending someone into a knife-throwing contest who’s never practiced throwing knives before. It’s not good.
At the same time, though, it’s hard. Our society glorifies fanciness, especially when it’s on the basketball court. If a guy makes the right pass, the most you’ll ever hear is “Nice pass.” If he gets all crazy with it and goes behind his head or something, “Nice pass” turns into “Oh my God!”
Here’s an example: We’ve all seen a lot of John Stockton highlights, but they usually always end with a Karl Malone finish. You’ll never see a highlight of one of Stockton’s perfect bounce passes to Jeff Hornacek for a jumper, only clips that end with Malone’s hand behind his head dunking and he’s doing all of his “Mailman” stuff.
But like I said, it’s hard. I mean I go to the AND 1 games. I’ll take my kids to them. It’s entertainment.
Dime: Is your legacy something you think about a lot?
Shaq: I actually don’t think about it at all. That’s for the so-called “others” to think about and decide.
Dime: “The others” meaning who? The media?
Shaq: Yes. The media, the Hall of Fame. You look at where “The others” put guys like Bill Walton. Bill Walton only has one or two championships, but the way they talk about him you’d think he had a lot more. I have four. There are a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame and I’ve already passed them by, but you would never know it the way they talk about them. I have four rings, but I want six. Maybe that will do it.
Dime: Is that what drives you? You already have more rings than most players in NBA history, you have all the money you’ll ever need, and no matter what, you’ll go down as one of the greatest players ever. Is the drive for six rings what keeps you in the game and on the grind?
Shaq: That’s the legacy I drive for. That’s it. I have three years left on my contract and I want to go out with a bang. Maybe I’ll end up with five, maybe I’ll end up with four. But I want six. That’s what it’s all about.