SI Vault
 
Try to Stop Him
Phil Taylor
March 13, 1995
In taking on three pivot legends in one week, Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal rises to the test
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 13, 1995

Try To Stop Him

In taking on three pivot legends in one week, Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal rises to the test

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

HOW SHAQ STACKS UP

Here are Shaquille O'Neal's career statistics against Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson (through games of March 3).

O'NEAL

 

EWING

7

WINS

6

29.5

POINTS PER GAME

27.9

41

HIGH GAME

38

.545

FG PERCENTAGE

.474

69-135

FT (ATTEMPTED-MADE)

57-73

13.2

REBOUNDS PER GAME

11.7

2.2

ASSISTS PER GAME

2.7

3.00

BLOCKS PER GAME

2.46

O'NEAL

 

OLAJUWON

4

WINS

2

20.7

POINTS PER GAME

23.8

30

HIGH GAME

27

.557

FG PERCENTAGE

.452

16-33

FT (ATTEMPTED MADE)

28-37

12.8

REBOUNDS PER GAME

10.8

2.8

ASSISTS PER GAME

5.2

1.67

BLOCKS PER GAME

4.17

O'NEAL

 

ROBINSON

0

WINS

5

21.8

POINTS PER GAME

28.8

36

HIGH GAME

32

.538

FG PERCENTAGE

.439

17-31

FT (ATTEMPTED-MADE)

32-41

14.0

REBOUNDS PER GAME

11.8

1.5

ASSISTS PER GAME

7.0

2.00

BLOCKS PER GAME

2.83

SOURCE: Elias Sports Bureau

Legends lane can be a scary place. It is populated exclusively by giants, and no one under 7 feet tall is advised to venture near. Why, even Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal, who named the place, talks about it in reverential tones. But young Shaq doesn't need to be quite so circumspect, because after the fortuitous quirk of scheduling that in a span of six days last week threw together O'Neal and three other elite centers—the New York Knicks' Patrick Ewing, the Houston Rockets' Hakeem Olajuwon and the San Antonio Spurs" David Robinson—it was more obvious than ever that O'Neal not only deserves to reside on Legends Lane but that he also will soon have the biggest house on the block.

If four almost-certain Hall of Fame centers have ever been matched against one another in as short a period as the NBA's Big Four were last week, no one could remember such an occasion. The quartet's confrontations will certainly be remembered when Most Valuable Player votes are cast in six weeks, because O'Neal, Olajuwon (last season's MVP) and Robinson (the defending scoring champion) are the front-runners for this season's award and were also the league's three leading scorers through Sunday. Add Ewing to the mix, and, with apologies to the Charlotte Hornets' Alonzo Mourning and the Denver Nuggets' Dikembe Mutombo, the four best centers in the sport were measuring their games, their egos and their reputations against one another.

When it was over, very little had been settled, although O'Neal, the MVP favorite, had only helped his cause. But we did learn a few things, among them that although Ewing has many talents, clairvoyance is not one of them; that Shaq may endorse Pepsi, but he will really have arrived when he has his own brand of water named after him, as Olajuwon does; that Robinson's motivational video of choice is a Disney film; and, perhaps most important, that before the MVP is conceded to anyone, a certain heavily tattooed, blond/red/fuchsia/green/orange/purple-haired Spur forward deserves serious consideration.

Ewing escaped the week relatively easily, having to play only O'Neal. Robinson and Olajuwon had to face each other and O'Neal, and Shaq drew the short straw, facing all three of the others, including Olajuwon and Robinson on consecutive nights. "All you can do is take it day by day," said Shaq. So that's what we'll do.

Tuesday, Orlando: Ewing vs. O'Neal

The Knicks, who have lost two of their three games against the Magic this season, arrive in Orlando six games behind the first-place Magic in the Atlantic Division standings. "This time, we're going to win," Ewing had said after practice the day before. Not surprisingly, a newspaper clipping with Ewing's declaration has found its way to the bulletin board in the Magic locker room.

It isn't the first time that the normally taciturn Ewing has been unable to hold his tongue on the subject of O'Neal and the Magic. Although he and O'Neal are among the league leaders in single-sentence answers, they somehow manage to convey the intensity of their rivalry with their brief utterances. After a Knick victory last season, O'Neal said that even though the Magic had lost, "Patrick knows who the Man is." Ewing responded, "He's not the Man yet."

That issue is at the heart of the Ewing-O'Neal matchup. Ewing, 32, is the veteran star, giving ground grudgingly in the face of the relentless advance of the 23-year-old O'Neal. While Shaq meets Robinson and Olajuwon only twice a year, he battles Ewing five times. This is the 13th time the two centers have played each other—they split the first 12—and they know one another so well that Tree Rollins, the Magic's backup center and assistant coach, hardly needs to remind O'Neal how to guard Ewing, but he does so anyway. Ewing likes to use pump fakes against opponents who can block his shot, Rollins tells O'Neal. Don't let him fake you into the air. Try to keep him from taking those giant steps and rolling into the lane when he gets the ball in the low post, because that's where he gets his three-point plays.

As for Ewing, he realizes he won't get a great deal of help while playing defense against O'Neal, because the Knicks don't often double-team opposing centers. "It's possible for Shaq to get his 40 and for us to still win," says New York coach Pat Riley.

Perhaps it is possible, but it doesn't happen this night at the Orlando Arena. O'Neal dominates, showing off his new repertoire of jump hooks and turnaround jumpers, and he finishes with 41 points and 10 rebounds in a 118-106 Orlando victory. Ewing plays well, with 32 points (his fifth straight game of 30 points or more) and 15 rebounds but not well enough for the Knicks to live up to his prediction. There is the feeling that the time is fast approaching when even Ewing will have to agree that O'Neal is the Man.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4