On June 1st, 2011, Shaquille O'Neal
announced his retirement, ending the career of one of the best big men the game has ever seen... and clearly one of the greats of his generation.
But was he the best big man of his generation? There are those that would - without hesitation - point to Tim Duncan
as holding that honorific. This is a debate that's been ongoing pretty much since they both hit the floor. Hell, we covered it here 2 and a half years ago
This, is perhaps one of the greatest questions facing mankind. Well, at least those of us interested in basketball! So I posed this task to a number of august writers in the field of basketball.:
Well, now that Shaq's retired, and Timmy's a shell of what he once was - basically a run down on who you think was the better big man of the generation: Shaq or Timmy (and a side-consideration on that, what do you consider Tim Duncan to be - a PF or a C?). On whatever basis you choose, make your choice, and support that choice with whatever arguments you see fit.
Involved in the ensuing discussion: Matt Moore
- CBS Sports
& Hardwood ParoxysmCollege Wolf
- T-Wolves BlogEzra Padua
- The Purple and Gold BlogScott/TBF
- With MaliceJohn Karalis
- Red's Army
& Crossover ChroniclesJeff Clark
- Celtics BlogJeff Fox
- Hoops Manifesto
- With MaliceMichael De Leon
- Project Spurs
So let's get to it, and then post all this, let's get to it in the comments section!
...Matt Moore, CBS Sports & Hardwood Paroxysm
The question essentially boils down to whether popularity matters. If we're looking at impact, statesmanship, role, proficiency, all-around efficiency, and what he gave his team night in and night out, it's Duncan
. But Duncan wasn't the cultural phenomenon. His highlights aren't played over and over again. He never broke the backboard, nailed the oop dunk and ran down like Oprah had given him a car, never gave the postgame pressers or dropped his own nicknames. Duncan just won, and produced, and worked. None of this is new information.
But in the framing of sports relevance and legacy, isn't popularity important? Shouldn't the fact that Shaq
was in "Blue Chips" and a 311 video and did the "Kobe ass taste" rap and everything else weigh in? If we're talking about this in the strictest of terms, an athlete's job is to entertain, and Duncan entertained the peaceful sleep of the bored more often than not. Don't take this as a slant. Duncan shouldn't be punished for his quiet consistency any more than Shaq should be punished for being great television.
But we're remiss if we overlook how deeply Shaq penetrated the global consciousness, how far he spread the idea of an NBA star as a celebrity. No one before or since really crossed over culturally the way Shaq did. Jordan crossed over as a brand, but his personality was glass, or maybe more effectively diamond. All you saw was the shine and the hardened exterior. Shaq you saw the full weight of the clown prince, the impact of his dominance, the shadow of his identity on a global scale.
Duncan was just a silhouette who passed through, and you had to really, really look at it to see how beautiful it was.
So yes, Shaq had the better career; yes, his impact was greater; yes, he will be remembered more. But if we forget what Duncan could do with his range, with his variety of beginning and ending moves (the things which verify him as a power forward), if we lose sight of the memory of all those hits from the hammer that the quote in the Spurs locker room talks about, we've forgotten what made Duncan great. And losing sight of that blinds us from his epic statue that stands in the landscape of professional basketball.
It depends on how you look on it, but you'd better look fast and look close. We'll never see anything like either of them ever again.
College Wolf, T-Wolves Blog
Revisiting this debate two and a half years later, I still think the answer to the question has got to be Shaq. He was overwhelmingly my selection in 2009, and despite the fact that he's played about half as many games as Duncan since then, he still gets my vote. What has changed since we first had this discussion? The answer is nothing, really. So how can you pick Duncan over one of the best, and most dominant big men of all time? I don't see how you can. They both still have four championships, and Shaq still has greater raw stats in almost every category. While he has played about 150 more career regular season games than Duncan, it's deceiving considering he's played the past few seasons as a shell of his former self, at the ages of 37-39 years old. He added basically nothing to his career numbers, while Duncan has played at a decently high level at "only" the ages of 33-35 years old.
Duncan has made two less All-Star games than Shaq, but has one more MVP award (although we all know Shaq got completely hosed when Nash "won" it.) Really, these guys are two of the best big men of all-time, although Shaq was more dominant and physically imposing during his prime. He was quite literally, unstoppable. Duncan is great in his own right and considered the better all-around player, but you can't really say the same thing about him being a whirlwind unstoppable force during his career, like Shaq was.
With these two guys, I don't know how you can definitively rank them since they are so close in terms of basketball greatness and overall success. So in that regard, I think there is a large degree of personal preference that comes into play here. Do you like power and brute force? Or precision and artistry? I think the general populace would most likely pick Duncan, as he's had much better stats the past 2.5 years (but the age and health of the two players most definitely needs to be considered!) Regardless of that, you simply cannot discount the utter dominance of Shaq during his career, all the way up until he won his fourth title.
Perhaps Basketball-Reference.com can settle this debate once and for all? Taking everything into consideration, they list Shaquille O'Neal as the #14 best player in the history of the NBA, which is ranked #1 amongst anyone that played in the NBA through last season. How does Tim Duncan
compare? B-R has him listed at #21 and #4, respectively.P.S. Lastly, regarding whether Duncan was a PF or C, I do not entirely know how you can answer that. I mean, as far as I can tell he could pretty much interchangeably play either position. I guess it probably just depends on what position the other Spurs big man on the court with him was more comfortable in playing; as well as who Duncan was matched up against from the opposition during any particular game.
Ezra Padua - The Purple and Gold Blog
First of, yes, Duncan is a power forward simply because his game fits the mold of a power forward more than that of a center.
It's absurd to some, but I don't really see the problem of comparing Tim Duncan to Shaquille O'Neal. Both are dominant frontcourt players who happen to have the same amount of championship rings, Finals MVP trophies and, more importantly, played in the same era.
Duncan is obviously the more well-rounded basketball player in terms of fundamentals and skills. He could score in the low block or from 17 feet with his signature bank shot. He can pass, block shots, rebound and has one of the highest IQ for a big man ever.
But I will have to go with the one and only Shaq on this one. O'Neal may not be anywhere a precision tool as Tim is but count how many bigs in NBA history who can, not only dominate games the way he could, but also make the guy defending him look as helpless as anyone trying to stop a Mack truck from backing up.
You have a better chance of preventing any of Tim's go-to moves than stopping Shaq from getting deep into the lane and throwing down one of his two-handed backboard-shattering dunks. Duncan has more ways to score the ball, but Shaq scored more points per game than Tim because of his unstoppable power game. O'Neal is superior in strength, agility and athleticism compared to Duncan. He's also the better defender, shot-blocker, rebounder and never complained about having to defend the centers in the league.