Warriors forward Kevin Durant has a simple retort to Shaquille O’Neal’s recent criticism: There’s more to life than championships.
Earlier this month, O’Neal told SI.com that Durant shouldn’t have intervened in the TNT commentator’s war of words with Warriors center JaVale McGee because Durant hasn’t yet won a championship. O’Neal argued that Durant “can’t talk to me like that” because he “ain’t in the club yet” and that the 2014 MVP was “outside in line with [Charles] Barkley, [Karl] Malone and [John] Stockton.” He added that Durant was representative of a “soft” NBA full of “sensitive” players.
Durant, who had previously criticized O’Neal’s free-throw shooting and lack of range after the Hall of Fame center mocked McGee in his “Shaqtin’ A Fool” blooper videos, said Friday on The Bill Simmons Podcast that O’Neal’s statements were “kind of weird” and that they “threw me for a loop.”
“He said I can't talk to him because I haven't won a championship,” Durant told Simmons. “I can see right through that. Shaq feels validated in life, not just basketball, because he's won a championship. … To say I can't say anything to him about my teammate who you tried to bully for no reason? I can't come to his defense because I haven't won championships? [That] shows me your whole life is centered around [the fact that] you feel like you're someone in this world because you won a championship. For me, it ain't even about that.
“If I have something to say, I'm going to say it. I feel like if you're going to come at my teammate, I'm going to protect him. that's what leaders are supposed to do. … Man, you've got flaws, too, and you're just trying to pick on JaVale. Obviously, JaVale would never be Shaq. He's trying out here like everybody else. I just try to have his back.”
O’Neal and his fellow TNT commentator, Charles Barkley, have both been engaged in high-profile exchanges with NBA player this year. Cavaliers forward LeBron James called Barkley a “hater” in January after Barkley criticized the four-time MVP for publicly asking for roster help from Cleveland’s front office.
While Durant continued to back McGee, he also tried to extend a few olive branches to former players, noting that he “respects” former players like O’Neal because they “laid the blueprint.” He noted that current players wouldn’t earn such high salaries “if it wasn’t for [former players].”
However, Durant strongly encouraged former players like O’Neal and Barkley to stop ragging on the current state of the game.
“It’s a new day,” he told Simmons. “Get over that s---. We shoot threes now. The game is good. We can play with y'all. It's faster now. Shaq, you did your thing. You don't hear nobody coming out saying, 'Back then, the way they played, they couldn't play with us [now].' No players come out and say that because we respect the generation before us. We can easily defend our generation but we don't do that. Obviously, we're not going to do everything the way y'all did it.”
The Warriors announced this week that Durant, who is sidelined with an MCL sprain, hasn’t experienced any setbacks in his recovery and that he could return to the court before the end of the regular season. Golden State’s final game is set for April 12. Even with Durant sidelined for most of March, the Warriors have retained the West’s No. 1 seed and the NBA’s best overall record.