Shaq’s Next Victim: Dwight Howard

Scottie Pippen was first. He endured a social media tussle with Shaq and lost. No one who enters the Shaq battle is going to win. He is always going to have the last word and on top of everything else, Shaquille O’Neal is a man with a huge amount of wit, humor, sarcasm and jokes. He’s funny. So, in that vein, it doesn’t really matter if what he is saying is true or not. It makes you laugh.

Pippen was the perfect target because Pippen is often derided as hanging on to MJ’s coattails with tight fingers. The fact is, when Jordan left for baseball, Pippen had his chance to prove to a skeptical fanbase they were wrong about him not being the number one option. He sealed his fate when he refused to go into a playoff game because the play wasn’t called for him. The Bulls lost. Michael Jordan, when he heard about it said, “Poor Scottie, it’s tough being me”. The media piled on. The mythology was born. So Shaq, calling Scottie out for not being Jordan and not being Rodman and carving out a career as third best player was typical Shaq truth/comedy.

Shaq’s next target: Dwight Howard.

Unlike Pippen, there is actual history with Howard that goes deeper than a casual social media tangle about who would beat whom. Shaq has been on Howard for a decade. From the get-go it was Howard’s game that insulted Shaq, his aversion to demanding the ball and working in the post, his reluctance to learn post moves, his unwillingness to dominate, and the psycho-social insecurity of wanting everyone to like him instead of wanting everyone to follow him. Shaq’s antipathy of Howard was low hanging fruit. Two big men, separated at birth, drafted twelve years apart. One ripping the other, all the time.

Where it went wrong for Howard was that he wanted what Shaq had without giving to the game what Shaq gave. As a rookie, Shaq put up 23.4 points a game and 13.9 rebounds. As a rookie, Howard scored 12.0 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Less is not more. Shaq was a serious competitor. Howard was a playful kid. Shaq wanted to dominate and be the best ever. Howard wanted to have fun. And yet the similarities were a history lesson smacking you in the face. Shaq was the #1 pick. Howard was the #1 pick. Shaq was drafted by Orlando and went to the Finals and lost in 4 games. Howard was drafted by Orlando and went to the Finals and lost in 5 games. Shaq fled small town Orlando for the glittering lights of Hollywood. Ditto Howard.

But the roads broke off somewhere between Orlando in L.A.  Shaq didn’t just care about Lakers history. He revered it. He breathed it. He wanted to be a part of it. He grew Laker roots. Howard acted as if Lakers history was a closed chapter of a book he had no intention of reading. At Dr. Jerry Buss’ funeral, Howard looked bored and disinterested surrounded by the Lakers legends and history on parade.

Shaq’s L.A. reputation cemented his legacy. He is beloved. He’s in the conversation of greatest big man ever. He is getting a statue. Howard’s L.A. reputation cemented his legacy. He is reviled. He’s in the conversation of most overrated big man ever. He is getting punked.

L.A. Story Points Rebounds Rebound % FT% PER
Shaquille O’Neal (1996-2004) 27.0 11.8 17.7% 53.3% 28.9
Dwight Howard (2012-13) 17.1 12.4 19.1% 49.2% 19.4

Howard’s first crime?

He stole Shaq’s nickname of Superman as if no one would notice he was trying to appropriate a career instead of trying to be original. All the nicknames out there and he couldn’t find another one?

The Superman nickname means a lot to Shaq. In his Orlando house, he had it engraved in his bathroom. So Dwight stealing it made Shaq a little pissed but he would be able to handle it if Howard would live up to the nickname. But, he sullied it.

What the Numbers Say Points Rebounds Blocks PER Playoff Winning %
Shaquille O’Neal 23.7 10.9 2.3 26.4 61% (216 games)
Dwight Howard 18.0 12.7 2.1 21.9 48% (84 games)

In a decade, Howard has developed zero post moves. His offense is limited to the occasional jump hook in the lane, and dunking. His psyche is skewed towards pouting and getting coaches fired and more importantly, Howard has the narrative and body of work of a loser. He has no rings. It’s been 7 years since he has been to the NBA Finals. He’s on the move again. Atlanta, his hometown, was brain drunk and gave  him north of $20 million, he of the broken body and broken offense and broken attitude.

In March, Shaq had enough. Or, maybe he was just bored. He went onto Howard’s Facebook page and photoshopped a pic of a Shaq slam in Howard’s face. He wrote:

There can only be one Superman!!!#ME

L.A. (and the NBA) agrees.

 

photo via llananba