Calling someone the best at something can stir up a great argument. I found that out firsthand Monday morning after an appearance on the Mike and Mike in the Morning show on ESPN Radio.
Shortly after my appearance on the show, I went down for my breakfast at The Broken Egg in Siesta Key, Fla., which is my normal routine. In fact, when I went there recently, a voice said to me, "Hi coach, how are you? Lakers in five."
Think about Shaq's physical power, his ability to dominate a game, his presence inside. He controls the game from the interior.
It was O.J. Simpson.
We talked briefly about his golf game, how he plays often with LT (former Giants great Lawrence Taylor), and about the NBA Finals. O.J. said he's picking the Lakers because of Shaq.
Now back to my radio appearance with Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, a weekly visit each Monday at 7:30 a.m. ET. I said that when it was all said and done, Shaquille O'Neal would be regarded as the best center in NBA history. That's right, better than Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ... the best of all time!
Several people at the Broken Egg disagreed with me. One person said Russell for sure. I hear that argument all the time -- people mention all the titles Russell won with the Celtics. Another argued for Wilt the Stilt, pointing out the great numbers he posted, including one season in which he averaged 50 points per game.
Then came more turmoil. I created a controversy by saying Barry Bonds is the best baseball player of all time. I heard screaming and yelling as one man said that Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio were in a different class. Of course, names like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb had to come up after I left.
I respect people's opinions and love discussing this stuff; it's one aspect of sports that I truly love.
Shaq: Best Center Ever
Let me start by discussing Shaq. Think about his physical power, his ability to dominate a game, his presence inside. He controls the game from the interior. It separates him from the greats -- and guys like Chamberlain, Russell and Abdul-Jabbar are Solid Gold All-Rolls Roycers. Russell was amazing at blocking shots and playing defense. Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar could flat-out score.
But look at the makeup of the teams those guys played for. Then compare them to the current Los Angeles Lakers team with Shaq and Kobe. Kareem had Magic, Worthy and company. Yes, Shaq has Kobe, but the rest of the roster is basically role player after role player.
Look at the Boston Celtics with Bob Cousy, the Joneses (Sam and K.C.) and that crew. Chamberlain's Philadelphia championship team was loaded too.
In the NBA's Western Conference, the toughest either conference has been in many years, Shaq has dominated. I love those other great big men, but give me Shaq. His pure inside game is the difference. Also, look at his improvement on the foul line.
I agree with a quote from Nets coach Byron Scott; he said that if you put O'Neal on the Memphis Grizzlies, along with Shane Battier, Pau Gasol and company, the Grizzlies could be in the NBA Finals.
With the Lakers, Shaq is about to get his third straight championship ring, baby!
Bonds: Best Baseball Player Ever
Then there is Bonds. Mike Greenberg yelled out loud after I said Barry is the best baseball player ever. He questioned Barry's postseason record. Think about it: How many opportunities has Bonds had to play in the postseason? Looking at his entire career, Bonds has put up incredible numbers. Now, very few teams even pitch to him. When all is said and done, he could have 700 home runs!
Think about the respect he gets. The Yankees walked him in the ninth inning the other day to put the tying run on base and bring the winning run to the plate.
I've known Barry for many years. In fact, one time I was almost blamed for an injury that could have hampered his career. He was in spring training in Florida, and we were talking by the batting cage, rapping about the NCAA Tournament. A foul ball came back and hit him as his face was against the screen. Bonds went down like Tyson against Lennox Lewis. But the trainers came over and took care of him. He was back as strong as ever.
Remember Bonds' defensive ability. Think about his prowess in the field, his ability to chase down fly balls and cut off hits in the gap and get them back in quickly.
My cousin, Dr. John Scarpa, and I argued for an hour about this. My father, God bless him up in heaven, would never allow me to argue this because of Joe DiMaggio. He loved No. 5 and so did I. When I look at the numbers, I agree with Bonds' former manager, Jim Leyland, who told me years ago that Barry would not only be the best left fielder of all time but also the best player overall. Yes, he has had off-field problems with his teammates, but between the lines, nobody has done it better.
There you have it, one view from a big sports fan. In their sports, Shaq and Barry are in a class by themselves.