I was tossing and turning after a couple of my buddies threw a question at me recently. They asked something that seemed simple: If I were starting an NBA team, who would I want in his prime ... Shaquille O'Neal or Michael Jordan?
Prior to this year's playoffs, I always thought it was a lock -- Michael the Magnificent, for sure. Jordan's leadership ability, his athleticism, his marketability, the way he competes and strives all made it seem like an easy call.
But wait a minute. Now it's something you have to think about. It isn't a no-brainer anymore.
Shaq has a lot of hoops left in him (he turned 30 in March). He's already achieved so much, with three straight NBA playoff MVP trophies. He's averaged more than 30 points a game in the championship round each of the last three seasons.
The Los Angeles Lakers he's led to the three-peat (along with Kobe Bryant) don't match up with most of the great teams of the past. The Boston Celtics of the 1960s had Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, K.C. and Sam Jones, Bill Sharman and on and on. It was more than just Mr. Russell, though he certainly was the catalyst. Think about the Lakers of the '80s, with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and company. The Philadelphia 76ers, a decade-plus earlier, had a ton of talent with Wilt Chamberlain, Chet Walker, Luke Jackson and Hal Greer.
On this Lakers team, there isn't much more than Kobe and Shaq.
If you were playing general manager and just starting a franchise, it isn't a lock to pick Jordan over Shaq. Think about the development of O'Neal inside; he has become such a force. His physical presence, his agility and his footwork are special. I haven't seen a big guy in basketball at his size (7-foot-1, 360 pounds) who moves like dancer Gregory Hines in the lane. Shaq can drop step when he wants and take it to the goal.
Then at times he shoots a short jumper or tries that little hook. The bottom line is, it seems that he can dunk any time he wants, exploding to the goal slam-bam-jam, baby! Shaq can simply score at will. Getting 35 points in a pressure situation like the NBA Finals seemed like nothing to him. I wonder what you fans think?
I haven't seen a big guy at his size who moves like dancer Gregory Hines in the lane.
OK, it's time for me to stop being a politician. If I were a GM starting a franchise, and I may be wacky and may be different, but here's my call. Because of his marketability and competitive nature, I would go with Jordan in his prime to start my squad on the road to success.
But talk to me in a year or two and I might go with the 7-1 big fella!