The Stacks: Shaq, Year One
First, came Dr. J, then Bird and Magic, and finally Jordan as the league went from near disaster to a Golden Age. Shaq was next in line, and boy did he deliver.
As we near the NBA Finals let us revisit Charles P. Pierce’s insightful portrait of a young Shaquille O’Neal. “The Next Superstar,” originally published in The New York Times Magazine in November 1992 (and featured in Pierce’s essential collection of sport profiles, Sports Guy ), shows us how the NBA was saved by star power. First, came Dr. J, then Bird and Magic, and finally Jordan as the league went from near disaster to a Golden Age. Shaq was next in line as the New, New Thing!, and, as fate would have it, he made good on his promise both on and off the court.
What I always found fascinating about Shaq was that he wasn’t plagued by the self-consciousness that bothered big men of an earlier generation—notably, Wilt Chamberlain. Shaq wasn’t shy about his size and he played with the defiance of a scrappy point guard.
He used his strength to overwhelm defenders but he also had nifty footwork, soft hands, and was a beautiful passer. Still, he wasn’t afraid to bully lesser players. As Magic Johnson tells Pierce, “the best part about him is that he’s mean.” Yet just when you were set to cast him as the Bad Guy, he’d turn all lovable and huggable, his meanness offset by his sense of humor. He was both: ferocious and a cut up.