Don't let the door hit your
big butt on the way out

By Royce Webb
ESPN.com

Dear Shaq:

We want it back. We want back the game you've devoured along with all the pizzas, Shaq Packs, Cap'n Crunch cereal and chocolate milk it takes to keep that 350-pound engine running. Big Aristotle, if you are as wise and generous as your namesake, the Original Big Aristotle, you'll give basketball back to the little people.

Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal's assault on the NBA game has got to stop.
Please, if you will, let me explain:

First off, and with all due respect, Big Mug, your game is U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi.

You know, a lot of people say basketball at its best is like jazz ... in which case, you're a big fat tuba playing, "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

Stumbling, bumbling, fumbling, rumbling, ramming, banging, bruising, elbowing, shouldering, bouldering … and that's just on your free throws. Your brutal game in the box is even harder on the eyes.

Second, and I mean this only in the kindest way possible, your skillz are wack, Shaq.

Big Fella, I realize that some people have flattered you -- for instance, a Very Famous Broadcaster recently said about you, "If he were 6-foot-1 and 190, instead of 7-1 and 310, I think he could still play in this league and play well."

But let's keep it real, Shaq. If you were 6-1, you'd be a point guard.

Can you imagine yourself as an NBA point guard?

Can you imagine a 6-foot NBA point guard who:

  • couldn't shoot from beyond 10 feet?
  • had hit one 3-pointer in 10 years?
  • had no handle?
  • had a negative assist-turnover ratio?
  • averaged less than a steal a game?
  • shot 53 percent from the line for his career?
  • missed five free throws per game?
  • couldn't make a spin in traffic?
  • couldn't shoot a left-handed layup?
  • couldn't play defense 15 feet from the basket?

    Shaquille O'Neal
    Shaq, can't you improve upon your 53 percent free throw shooting?
    I'm sure I don't have to tell you, Diesel, the guys with real skillz -- the Speedy Claxtons, Steve Nashes and Troy Hudsons, as well as the Iversons, Kidds and Kobes -- can do things you can only dream about. And I don't know how to break this to you, but they're not lying in bed at night saying, I wish I could be a 7-1 fat guy with no real game. I mean, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but every time I play pickup ball, I see five guys who've got more game than you do -- guys who can shoot pull-up Js, guys who can pick pockets, 40-year-old guys who pass behind their back like nothing.

    But let's be fair -- size is a talent too. So I'll grant you this, if you don't mind a backhanded compliment -- you move well for a guy your size.

    Third, speaking of size, you're too damn big.

    And here's the problem -- you and the other big guys have a triple advantage.

    In just about any sport, there is a basic advantage to being tall, and that's fine, because there is also an advantage to being short. But in basketball, there is a second advantage to being tall, which is that basketball is played up high, where the basket is. And, Shaq, when you're 7-1, there is a third advantage, which is why it's so hard to admire your game -- when you can play above the rim practically without leaping, how is that fair? Sure, you're unstoppable, but where's the challenge? You know, I do pretty well on 8-foot baskets against 12-year-old kids -- but what fun is that?

    About 80 guys in the NBA are 6-11 or taller (and as you know, a lot of them appear to be in the league just to foul you). And the taller the league is, the less skilled it is. Hate to say it, Shaq-Fu, but you have more in common with B-Mill (Brad Miller) and D-Bag (Dalibor Bagaric) than with T-Mac and J-Will.

    Fourth, Big Thumper, and I mean this as constructive criticism, it would be nice if you could find a way to get to the basket against a defender without fouling him. It's quite a bag of tricks you've developed down there -- the swim stroke, the hook with the elbow, the sledgehammer shoulder in the chest, the innocent elbow to the chops, the head-on charge -- and I would hate to cast aspersions on such a finely tuned repertoire, but perhaps a refresher on the rulebook would help:

    "A dribbler shall not charge into an opponent who has established a legal guarding position.… If a defender is able to establish a legal position in the straight line path of the dribbler, the dribbler must avoid contact by changing direction or ending his dribble…. If illegal contact occurs, the responsibility is on the dribbler."

    Shaquille O'Neal
    Defenders must be wary of a runaway Shaq.
    Fifth, Shaq, you've got a traveling jones. As much as I admire your, ahem, footwork and creativity, every kid knows it's not legal to pick up your dribble and then stumble-step-hop-jumpstop your way to the hoop. (No wonder you're "unguardable.") And, Big Bunny, that's not to mention the cute little shuffles and hops you take as you start your dribble.

    Come on, Big Sarge, that's not the kind of discipline your stepdad, U.S. Army Sergeant Philip Arthur Harrison, taught you. This is a man who marched in military parades with his fellow soldiers, hundreds of feet in perfect sync with nary a bootlace out of place.

    Maybe when the other Phil, your coach, gives out books to the team next season, he should put the NBA rulebook in your locker and dog-ear the page that explains traveling.

    To sum up, I don't know how to break it to you, Big Guy, but you represent everything that people hate about the NBA game today. The players are too tall. Being big and strong is more important than being skilled and athletic. The refs never call traveling. They let the big guys camp out in the lane. The game is too rough down low, and post players bang and barge their way to the basket. And superstars get the calls.

    Look, Big Man, I know all of this shouldn't be laid at your size-22 feet. If the NBA weren't so obsessed with developing larger-than-life superstars, they'd find ways to make the game more fair and exciting, regardless of size. They'd lengthen the court to force your big butt up and down faster (and to the sidelines for rest), they'd widen the court to allow shooters and creative players the space to operate, they'd widen the lane to open it up, and they'd raise the basket to reduce your advantage.

    But until then, it's on you, Big Onus -- if you want to accomplish something that's even bigger than you are, shape up ... or, better yet, ship out.

    With love,
    A fan of the game

    Royce Webb is an ESPN.com senior editor and the former editor of SportsJones.





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