Roundtable: Debating the Diesel
Shaq has been criticized, but it hasn't stuck because of his outsized personality
Assessing how Allen Iverson's sour experience in Detroit affects his legacy
More topics: Rajon Rondo's importance; proposal to change playoff system
SI.com NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week.
1. Does Shaq get a free pass for his antics?
Ian Thomsen: When people refer to the NBA as "a business,'' they're dealing with questions like this one. Is Shaq worth the trouble he creates? Of course he is. He wins championships, he dominates with his play and his personality, he creates interest and therefore money. The antics are never anything so bad; it's not like you ever read about his being charged with a crime. Dwight Howard was upset by O'Neal's rebuke, but any kind of rivalry between them will only raise Howard's profile and ultimately he and the NBA will benefit. The guy is 37 and he's still one of the league's top players, so he has earned the right to speak his mind.
Jack McCallum: The short answer, I suppose, is yes. But it's more complicated than that. Over the years he has been criticized a fair amount for his torching of coaches after he leaves, for his reversal of positions, for his need to immediately assume control of every team he's on and for his less-than-diligent approach to conditioning. But it doesn't stick. Part of that is the fault of people like me, who come into town determined to roast Shaq, then find him so charming -- and newsworthy -- that somehow the storyline gets changed. But the other part of that equation is that the public doesn't want the criticism to stick. No matter what it hears, it just likes the guy and is drawn to his outsized comedic talent. He will remain, throughout his career, a 7-foot-1 cartoon character who, most of the time, makes everyone feel better. That, and a Hall of Fame center who won four championships.
Chris Mannix: Of course he does. He's Shaq. He's as lovable as a cartoon character and has more nicknames -- Shaqovich is a personal favorite -- than every boxer in the welterweight division. Does he sometimes take his antics too far? Sure. Shaq took Stan Van Gundy's comments a little too personally, and Chris Bosh clearly didn't take kindly to being called the "RuPaul of big men." But this isn't Terrell Owens we're talking about here. Shaq isn't a divisive force in the locker room. More times than not, O'Neal is just goofing around. Shaq himself said this season that everything he says is done for the purposes of marketing. If we believe that, why should we ever take him seriously?
Steve Aschburner: The Big Provocateur does seem to be sheathed in an XXXXL suit of Teflon, in terms of nasty stuff sticking to him. He has been able to shrug off and move on from some pretty unsavory situations, no small feat for a guy who feuds with words the way the Hatfields and the McCoys used bullets. I guess it's the cleverness of some of his remarks, that half-smile, half-smirk with which he delivers them and the twinkle in his eye when he knows he's entertaining his media audiences. But that's no excuse for meanness, a line he has stomped across recently regarding Van Gundy and Bosh. So let's say that O'Neal gets a deeply discounted pass.
2. What will be Allen Iverson's legacy as a player? How will his experience in Detroit affect how he's viewed?
Ian Thomsen: He isn't for everybody. You can't ask Clint Eastwood to be a character actor in a movie; he wouldn't know how to play it. Very few players have the talent and charisma to carry a team as Iverson has done, including his 2000-01 run to the NBA Finals as league MVP with the 76ers. I want to see how he does coming off the bench. Everyone has been so afraid to ask him to become a sixth man that we still don't know how he'll do in that role. Maybe he'll be terrific and he'll go into the summer as a free-agent target for teams in contention.
Jack McCallum: His legacy is not simple. It should be this: an undersized, uber-talented bundle of energy who was one of the few players even cynical journalists would pay to see. However, he is also a shoot-first, defensively challenged player who was never able to lead a team all the way and whose best days came under the coach with whom he battled the hardest, Larry Brown.
Chris Mannix: That's a tough question to answer right now, because the stench from Iverson's brief stops in Denver and Detroit -- and whatever team he winds up with next season -- is still fresh. But just like the memory of Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform has begun to fade, so will the last few years of Iverson's career. And after that happens, we will remember him for what he is: one of the most dynamic players in NBA history and a 6-foot guard who almost single-handedly carried offensively challenged Philadelphia to an NBA championship. Iverson's accomplishments in 10½ seasons with Philadelphia -- Rookie of the Year, NBA MVP, seven-time All-Star and four-time scoring champion -- are simply too significant to overlook.
Steve Aschburner: Iverson already ranks high on the lists of the NBA's greatest pound-for-pound and inch-for-inch performers. What strikes me now, in the wake of his moves from Philadelphia to Denver to Detroit, is that he also sits at or near the top among players (especially non-centers) whose games are almost self-contained. It's like he's working in a plastic bubble, playing the same whether surrounded by Sixers, Nuggets, Pistons or All-Stars. He is a jazz soloist with everyone else reduced to rhythm section, that's how dominating and separate his style of play is. That's why he would be perfect in a sixth-man role, a late-career resurgence that -- if only he would embrace it -- could balance his lack of a championship, legacy-wise.
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