Monday June 29th, 2009

Amid complaints about the dearth of talent in last week's NBA draft, No. 1 pick Blake Griffin has earned resounding approval from Shaquille O'Neal.

Shaq believes Griffin, the new 6-foot-10 power forward of the Los Angeles Clippers, deserves mention with the most intriguing rookies of the past 15 years.

"Every now and then you get that special case," O'Neal told "Kobe was that special case, [Kevin] Garnett was that special case, and LeBron James ..."

Here he pauses, like an emcee introducing a surprise guest to the stage.

"And now I actually think this guy Blake Griffin is a special case," said O'Neal. "He plays the game like a big man should play -- hard-nosed, tough. I really like his game.

"My (10 year old) son is starting to play now, and I don't like to let him watch players that are really, really fancy. Of course, I'll let him watch Kobe, LeBron, T-Mac (Tracy McGrady). But I show him Blake Griffin and I say, 'Shareef, this is the dude you should watch and pattern your game after.' Because my son, when he's older, I think he's going to have the same body type -- 6-10, muscular, freakish athletically."

As O'Neal prepares to visit Cleveland this week for the first time since his recent trade to the Cavaliers, he promises to remain even-tempered about the possibility of helping LeBron win his first championship.

"My wife said this is the first time she's seen a great team get a great player and not lose any players," said O'Neal of the blockbuster that sent Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic, a second-round pick and $500,000 to the Phoenix Suns. "But I'm going to take it one game. Anybody can say [they're going to win a title", but now you've got to get there.

"Anytime you're in the Finals, they want you to do the promo pics with the gold ball, but I won't do it. 'Just take the picture.' No, I won't do it. It's just one picture, but I'm not jinxing myself."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.