As cliche as it’s going to sound, life truly does work in mysterious ways.
The Shaquille O’Neal we know in 2014 has cemented his legacy in several ways: as one of the two or three most dominant players in league history, the largest man to ever fit in a Buick, a no brainer first ballot Hall of Famer, Neon from Blue Chips, the guy who nearly killed Brad Miller once in Chicago, shimmy’d like a Kappa in a commercial despite being one of the most recognizable members of Omega Psi Phi in the world and touts the honor in saying he played alongside Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Luke Harangody.*
Yet, in 1991, the brand seen now was merely the most agile and destructive two-legged tank in college basketball. Maybe on the planet.
Long, long before their Inside The NBA days, Ernie Johnson caught up with Shaq and his father Sgt. Philip Harrison during spring break for an interview which aired during halftime of a Lakers/Blazers game on TNT (he’d link with Chuck a year later). Of the clip itself:
1. Ernie’s coke bottle glasses may look funny now, but yours truly had them growing up, too. My mom made me take my third grade school picture in them and I’m pretty sure I resembled Minkus from Boy Meets World.
2. What Sgt. Harrison preached was legit in regards to school and future NBA millions. The look on Shaq’s face, however, says, “I’d tell him he’s tripping, but I don’t want to get slugged in the chest again.” An education is invaluable. Shaq’s pops was 100% spot on. But Charles Barkley always has a point, too, when he notes, “I may not be the smartest man in the world, but I know they call me Mr. Barkley in the bank.” Or something like that.
3. The Blazers won that game 109-105 for their fifth straight and improved to 52-18 on the season. Clyde Drexler had 22-7-12, Terry Porter had 26-4-14 and Buck Williams had 12-17. Again, those late ’80s/early ’90s squads were legit could have been even more legit had Arvydas Sabonis been granted clearance to come Stateside. Meanwhile, in a losing effort, Magic Johnson had a triple double (23-10-12) which is kind of like saying Dennis Rodman probably shouldn’t be in North Korea.
4. Bill Walton’s mullet was impressive. In fact, in 1991, the only mullets more stock invested into them were Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair and A.C. Slater. It is compelling, however, to hear Walton say Shaq’s potential could define him as the greatest player of all-time pending his work ethic mimicked the God-given talent.
Neverthless, all parties involved turned out fairly decent in the game of life. Ernie Johnson remains basketball’s best point guard while he and Shaq are both co-workers on the most popular pre-and-postgame show on television.
So what’s the lesson in all this? Try not to burn (the wrong) bridges, kids. You never know who’s going to be your co-worker 20 years from now.
* – He apparently can’t say “Jameis Winston” either, but the man did record with Biggie….so there’s that.