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Did Shaq Ask His Teammates Not to Play Defense?

May 7, 2007 – 4:00 PM
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Shaquille O'Neal's absorbed some pretty harsh criticism throughout his career. At various points, he's been called out for his tendency to coast through the regular season, his commitment to conditioning, and some selfishness.

No criticism he's ever gotten, in my opinion, is as damning as this tidbit from Sam Smith's column at
Heat coach Pat Riley in his post-series comments said he was to blame for what he called the "pervasive" attitude of the veterans that the team could turn it on at any time. Hmm, wonder whom he meant. Riley said it would have been "a mockery" if the Heat had defeated the Bulls.

"It would have sent the wrong message. We didn't do anything the right way this year," Riley said. Then he added: "If he wants to give back $10 million and play half the season, fine." Wonder again whom he meant.

Miami insiders said not only was O'Neal indifferent to the regular season, as usual, and this time had knee surgery, but he'd even go so far as to tell teammates not to bother with defense, apparently to not make his own indifference look bad.
If that's true, it's unforgivable. Not playing defense yourself is one thing ... in the regular season, every single player in the league takes some possessions off. No big deal.

But to implore your teammates to stop trying, because it would make you look bad? I can't even count the ways that that's messed up.

He's putting his own image above the interests of the team. His own image. We're not even talking about his stats, his touches, or his role in the offense, all of which would be bad, but are at least things that happen sometimes. We're talking about his image ... he's perfectly willing to let his team lose games because he doesn't want people to single him out for not trying? Unbelievable.

I'm going to choose not to believe this, just because if I did believe it, I'd have no choice but to believe Shaq is a man of zero basketball integrity. I'd forgive Ron Artest for mistreating his dog before I forgave Shaq for asking his teammates not to try. I don't want to do that, so I'm not believing this.
Filed under: Sports