I could not tell you what motivates Shaquille O’Neal’s persistent harassment of NBA centers, but I can tell you he definitely does that. Shaq loved to razz opponents when he played in the league, but ever since he became a TV personality, he’s dialed up the animus from afar. His most recent attack follows the pattern:
Here you see legendary NBA center Shaquille O’Neal shit-posting about how he’d dominate present-day NBA center Rudy Gobert, era-mashing Photoshop and all. This followed a podcast appearance in which Shaq expressed disbelief about Gobert’s substantial contract extension. As far as I can tell, Gobert did nothing to provoke O’Neal’s lurch from regular media punditry to personal attacks.
If you’ve watched our series Beef History, you know Shaq does this. If you haven’t, and want to contextualize Shaq’s chosen media persona of Center Police, take a walk with me. First, it’s worth remembering that Shaq got hazed a bit upon entering the league. Veteran NBA centers wanted to send a message to the young upstart, and a bit of targeting at the 1993 NBA All-Star Game led to a full-on feud with Spurs legend David Robinson:
That’s relevant background, but this phenomenon concerns Shaq’s role as a TNT personality decades later. Even after retiring, Shaq took it upon himself to belittle Dwight Howard:
It was an extremely childish beef, but you can at least suspend your better judgment to understand why “Superman” felt threatened by a young player who, early on, seemed to be following a similar career trajectory, or even ripping off O’Neal’s public persona.
The beef with JaVale McGee was just inexplicable, and it got pretty ugly:
So in terms of basketball prowess, Shaq’s targets run the full gamut from superstar to okay, with Gobert registering somewhere in the middle. The main thing these guys have in common is that they play the same position Shaq did. Shaq’s got this obsession with what makes a true NBA center, like being 7 feet tall admits you into some sort of brotherhood with rules and rituals. If for some reason Shaq feels you’ve affronted the sanctity of the big man brotherhood, like have a nickname or miss some dunks or, in this case, make too much money (???), Shaq will behave like a teenaged 4chan troll at your expense. In public.
It’s pretty dumb. Point is: You’re not alone, Rudy.