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Catching Up With The Dieselby John Schuhmann
Shaquille O'Neal won his fourth NBA Championship in 2006, bringing Miami its first title in just his second year with the franchise. It was the first time he won a title where he didn't also take home the Finals MVP hardware. That honor belonged to Dwyane Wade who, with some encouragement from his big man, showed the world that he must be considered when discussing the best players in the game.
Physically, he's not the same Shaq that he was a few years ago, but when it comes to his wit, he's as sharp as ever. NBA.com caught up with Shaq at Alonzo Mourning's 3rd Annual Million Dollar Shoot Out at Trump National Golf Course in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.
NBA.com: How did you guys turn it up once the playoffs began and what was it during the regular season that kept you from being 5-10 games better than you were?
Shaq: It happened because we sort of veteran-ly paced ourselves. A lot of teams come out, win 15 in a row, win 20 in a row, win 70 games, but if you don't win the whole thing, none of that matters. Our formula was very simple: beat the teams you're supposed to beat, stay dominant at home, and stay above .500 on the road. We did that and we won 50 games. We let about nine or 10 games slip away by not focusing or just by being lazy.
The NBA is all about winning a certain amount of games and sitting in position for the playoffs. We wanted anywhere from one to four, those spots, any type of home-court advantage. Pat is a perfectionist, you know. He wanted us to be in first all year. But I was telling the guys, "Don't worry about it. Don't get down on yourselves. The No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 spot is fine, because I've won at every spot." So we got the No. 2 and our playoff record was set. We just had dinners. We just had meetings. We just hung out. We watched film on our own. Pat got on us and we just talked about what we had to do.
We had you guys doubting us and giving us extra, extra motivation. Everything was set for us. We just stayed focused and stayed humble throughout the whole thing.
I think that the point where we really turned around was when Pat came in one day. We didn't even have practice. Mark Cuban had already set the parade route. It was in the paper and Pat just put it on the board and said, "Take the day off. Take tomorrow off and I'll see you for the game." And we didn't practice for two days. A lot of people don't know that. We didn't even practice. Because everybody was counting us out, Mark had the parade route and he just taped it up there, handed out fliers and said, "We know what we gotta do in Game 3. I'll see you later." Once the guys read that, we really got upset and we got focused.
NBA.com: What about Dwyane Wade's ascension to being maybe the best player in the league?
We had one one-on-one games, free throw games. So we actually became good friends and it was just my way of pumping him up. John Wooden told me that the definition of a truly great player is how you make the players around you. I know that I can't do the same things that I did eight years ago ... but he can. And it was just my job to tweak him a little bit and show him he could do it.
And of course, with me on the floor, he has a lot of room. I told him, "When I'm on the floor, you take advantage of that room. Come down and give me the ball. I'll kick it back out and you do what you do."
NBA.com: Have you ever seen a more relentless player in this league as far as taking the ball to the basket?
NBA.com: Where does that come from, other than you motivating him?
Shaq: It comes from me, it comes from where he wants to be and it actually comes from the pressure of his class. What I mean by that is that everybody always talks about Carmelo and LeBron and they kinda leave him out. That kinda pisses him off a little bit. It really does. It pisses him off. And I remind him all the time. Because that's what I used to do when I played against Alonzo. Forget 'em. Forget 'em all. You know, not personally, but on the court. Forget him. Forget Christian Laettner. Forget 'em all.
I told him. I said, "Look man, they talk about Kobe and T-Mac and all that. That's where I want you to be next year. When they talk about those guys, I want them to say 'and D-Wade.' Not 'Kobe, T-Mac, Carmelo, LeBron and that's it.' Your name has got to be in those five. No. 1, 2 or 3 at worst. You gotta be up there."
We sort of look at each other and motivate each other by trying to out-do each other. And then when you look at the bigger picture, it also motivates us. When I was coming up, I had to out-do Alonzo and Christian Laettner first. Once I out-did them, now I could get to Ewing, Robinson, Sabonis and Parish. Basically, it's a karate move. You gotta fight all the karate guys, and once you kill them off, now you gotta get to the ninjas. Once you get through the ninjas, now you gotta get to the showmen.
Basically, all I did with D-Wade is just have discussions. Not only that, I learned that, you know, from dealing with the first two guys, I may have made some mistakes in the way I dealt with those guys. We'll never know, but I looked at the mistakes I made with those guys and I didn't want to do it with him.
Like, when I was with Penny, we were both young guys and since everybody was going to put the pressure on me, we're going to do it my way. Period. You don't like it? Forget you. The same thing when I went to L.A.
Now that I'm much older and I got a younger guy, and I see that the other two guys didn't really like the yelling and took it personal, so I never yelled at D-Wade. And it probably was the best move I ever made, because he's the first other superstar where we're best friends. The other two, we never hung out. We never talked. We just never did anything ... ever.
But me and this guy, we hang out. He calls me. I was in China the other day and I was looking for him. I didn't see him, but we're just cool. It was one of the best decisions I've made because I'm from the old school. If you're messing around, I gotta curse you out. That's just how I am. I'm not with all that.
But with D-Wade, I'm like, "Last time you went to the hole, Antoine was open in the corner. Do that same move, kick it to him and if he hits the three, he's on. If he don't hit the three, look for somebody else." He'll listen and he'll do it, you know what I'm saying? It's good. It's good.
NBA.com: Is Coach Riley's situation an issue in your mind?
Shaq: It's sort of an issue, but I haven't addressed it and I won't address it until it addresses me. But hell yeah, it's an issue.
NBA.com: From the press, it sounds like it's a foregone conclusion that he's coming back.
Shaq: I haven't talked to him, so I'm not gonna even comment on it.
NBA.com: We talked about the regular season vs. the postseason earlier, but do you think that your postseason success will now lead to a stronger regular season?
Shaq: I don't want to say that it don't matter, but we just have to stick to that formula that I told you about. Because I've been on teams that have won 65 games. One year in L.A., we won 65 games and got swept by Utah. And if we didn't let some games get swept away, we could have easily got 70 games. I learned that philosophy from Phil (Jackson). It's sort of a lazy, dangerous philosophy. You know, Phil used to do certain things like you know, take care of certain games, because you wanted to be in a certain position. It's all about being 1-4 when you get to the playoffs. Because again, the Pistons damn near won 70 games and what happened? What happened?
Not only that, it's a long season. It's a long season. And not many guys can play 120 great games. I just like to always win three out of five. At worst, you gotta win three out of five. Never let yourself slip too much.
No. 1, you always gotta beat the teams you're supposed to beat. That's about 19 teams that you're always supposed to beat, especially at our place. A lot of teams for some reason, at their place give us trouble. Toronto always gives us trouble at their place and we don't know why. Toronto, the Clippers, even Atlanta gives us problems there. That's just how it is.
NBA.com: Was this the first time you had been to China?
Shaq: Actually, it was the second time. I went 10 years ago, but I only stayed like one day. This time, I stayed like six or seven days. I did a shoe deal with this guy Li-Ning. Li-Ning is one of the biggest shoe guys over there. Li-Ning, Nike, Adidas, Puma ... but Li-Ning is a good guy and I wanted to go to their country and do business with somebody that is well respected in their country rather than coming in as an outsider trying to take advantage of their economy. I wanted to come and do business with a guy that was already successful. He accepted me and we're doing a deal.
NBA.com: So the shoes are only being sold in China?
Shaq: Yes. For now they're gonna be in China, but once Li-Ning comes to America, they'll be sold here.
NBA.com: Did you pick up any Chinese? I know you pride yourself in learning new languages.
NBA.com: So you're not going to talk to Yao in Chinese?
Shaq: Nah, but you know what's crazy about Yao? He speaks perfect English. A lot of people don't know that. Perfect English. When I was over there, I called him. He's like, "Whassup big fella?" Perfect English!