Legendary athletes are known by their deeds, not by their words.
Mercifully, appropriately and lucky for us.
In the NBA, it's even more so. When you think of the most famous quotes in sports history, how many of them have come from people in pro hoops? In this league, there's no one in
Maybe that's why
Seriously, what's the most memorable quote in pro basketball history?
Baseball, by contrast, is brimming with them, from
Stram's father was a professional wrestler, which might have rubbed off on his son and could have a little something to do with O'Neal's propensity to spout, chide, bloviate and needle. Anytime the Phoenix center gets pinned down on a remark that seems particularly harsh or untoward -- like his recent drive-by scathings of Orlando coach
Maybe when skin gets stretched around a guy Shaq's size, it invariably ends up thin. It sure sounded that way when he eviscerated Van Gundy for an admittedly odd but relatively harmless dig at O'Neal for a flop against Howard last week in Orlando. It was a tweak at a guy who abhors and complains about such unmanly theatrics from opponents, and who even admitted as he bristled back that he had, indeed, flopped. But O'Neal fired back, ridiculing Van Gundy's career and alleging that his former Miami coach tends to "panic'' in tough situations. In sporting parlance, that's the equivalent of saying a player chokes, hitting below the belt worse than, well, some actual blows below the belt.
O"Neal rankled Bosh after the Raptors' All-Star forward wondered about the bigger man's ability to linger in the lane without eliciting three-second calls. That, too, was met with overkill: Shaq compared Bosh to
It still isn't clear why Van Gundy shined so bright a light on O'Neal's attempt to draw a charging foul on Howard, saying in his postgame session that night that he was "shocked'' and "very disappointed'' by the ploy. It isn't as if Shaq doesn't have a few coming, given what defenders have pulled against him, many on Van Gundy's watch in their one-and-a-quarter seasons together. Howard, who not only holds O'Neal's old job as Orlando center but also has glommed onto his Man of Steel imagery, is a logical foil, especially being 13 years younger in their May-December rivalry.
Bosh's comment was more mild, coming in the normal flow of postgame conversation after facing a unique player Bosh sees only a couple of times each season now. Yet Shaq pulled a blunt ax on all of them, where a scalpel would have done fine.
"No, these are not his normal comments,'' Van Gundy told reporters, when the he-said, he-said got volleyed back to him. "He usually tries to fake like he's being humorous so he can back away from the comments at a later time. But he didn't do it this time. Obviously, Shaq is a very sensitive guy. I struck a nerve and hurt his feelings, and I'm sorry.''
To which O'Neal basically countered: Stick it.
Said Howard: "We're not really worried about whatever anybody says about Coach. Why fight with somebody about words? I don't believe, deep down in his heart, he thinks anything bad about me or Coach Van Gundy.''
Maybe that's it, the fact that all of this is nothing but words. Well, feelings, too. But even if it's personal, at least it's not physical. O'Neal has reined himself in remarkably well through his 17 seasons, squashing no one, trouncing few. His elbows only rarely rattle defender's jaws in super-slow motion the way they did
So careful not to be a bully with his body, he might be letting it fly with his mouth. He has done it before, from full-frontal shots at Bryant to his bad Chinese schtick early in
Other critics see this as a more ugly change in O'Neal, a desperation born of advancing age (37), a Suns team with limited postseason potential and a creeping awareness that -- recent resurgence in his individual play notwithstanding -- the spotlight and soapbox might not be his much longer. That could explain the meanness crowding out what used to be playfulness or gentle teasing (although linking the issue of flopping to a shot at Van Gundy's career was clever, true or not).
Me, I prefer to see Shaq as affirming his place as the NBA's most quotable superstar ever as well as its ultimate entertainer. The same guy who can grab attention as a