Clash Of The Titans
Yao and Shaq sound off on what it means to be a giant in the NBA
It's always a must-see event when Yao and Shaq renew acquaintances.
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Rockets.com Staff Writer
Houston - In a league almost exclusively made up of super-sized men, there remain two who tower above them all: Yao Ming, the Rockets 7-6 soft-spoken giant with a heart of gold and Shaquille ONeal, the loquacious and bodacious man of a thousand self-provided nicknames who has, somewhat incredibly, rediscovered his All-Star form in the desert.
But while their personalities couldnt be more different, Yao and Shaq will forever be bound together by the jaw-dropping size and skill of their respective physiques. An understanding exists between the two of them that no one else in the league can share; for only the other can perfectly relate to what it means to be a giant among giants, and appreciate the nightly pounding and punishment absorbed as a result.
Interestingly enough, their latest confrontation takes place at a time when both have recently made headlines by voicing their displeasure at what they view as a league-wide double standard. On Wednesday, ONeal lashed out at Orlandos Stan Van Gundy after the Magic's head coach accused Shaq of flopping; a charge O'Neal took very seriously given his disdain for the art form which has become a blight on the NBAs landscape.
Then later that night Yao sounded off in somewhat similar fashion after Houstons loss to Utah. Tired of feeling as if opponents could get away with mauling him simply because hes bigger than everyone else, Yao made it known that he considered the officiating to be unfair.
All of this is nothing new, of course. Since the days of the great George Mikan, the true giants of the NBA have been forced to deal with the exact same thing. Yao and Shaq both know this. But that doesnt mean theyve resigned themselves to simply quietly accept their fate.
It was put to me by a top NBA guy that they wont take care of two people, and have 268 complain, says ONeal. Because obviously if theres 268 people complaining about two 7-foot, 300 pound guys theyre going to give them a little extra. Flopping has become a big concern, but I just take it as a sign of ultimate respect: [Like] I cant guard you. Im just going to fall down and cry to the refs. And most of the time the refs believe it.
Its always David and Goliath. The little man always gets it. Their thing is, Youre big and strong, you can take it. But my point is a pinch feels the same to me as it feels to you. Like I always try to tell the referees: You guys make the rules up, so a foul is a foul. It doesnt matter if a guy is bigger and stronger. Its not my fault I ate my Frosted Flakes when I was little, while you ate Wheaties.
Tonight there aint going to be none of that. Itll be two powerful guys going at one another.
Yao says he agrees with Shaqs statement, but he thinks the Big Cactus is sending a subtle message with his strong words as well.
I think the way he tried to do it is tell me dont flop tonight," says Yao while laughing. "He set a trap right there.
Honestly, I agree. They think the players who are above 300 pounds should be able to handle any hammer, any pressure, any foul, anything.
Then Yao jokingly suggested his new goal for the future: My weight can change. I can get down below 300 and see if the rules can be changed.
But before he looks into Jenny Craig or Atkins, Yao will have his hands full with Shaq; a match-up Houstons All-Star center says is never easy. For his part, the Diesel knows hes in for a long night, too - just dont try telling him its a one-on-one affair.
Its not going to be man-on-man, so dont even try that, says ONeal with an incredulous laugh. Theyre going to double and triple me like everybody else. When I get the ball in the paint, there are going to be three guys there. I rarely get to play [ Yao] one-on-one. When I get the ball, Artest, Scola and Brooks will be down there. But when I play him (on defense), its just going to be me down there. So dont try to make it a Yao versus Shaq thing, when its Shaq versus four other guys.
Im from the old school, I dont want no help. If youre going to roast me, roast me. The last guy who roasted me was Hakeem Olajuwon. So if you want to roast me, roast me, but I dont want no help, no fronting, no gimmicks, no flopping.
Then, on a dime and in classic Shaq fashion, ONeal shifts gears and pays Yao the ultimate respect.
Hes a great player whos playing great and I look forward to playing against him. The guy is 7-9. There aint much you can do. You just have to try to make him work on offense and defense. But aint nobody going to stop him. You might block his shot a couple times, but hes 7-9 with all the skills inside, outside, you name it. So you just have to make him work. Hes a horse, but Im a horse, too.
Yao smiles when told of Shaqs compliments. I really feel honored that comes from him, he says. But what will Yao do when, Shaqs protestations aside, he actually does find himself one-on-one against ONeal?
I have my way to try to stop him, says Yao with a mischievous grin. And I have Deke backing me up who has the most experience against him. He gave me a lot of tips.
Notice he said foul, not flop. And that brings up a key point: There will be plenty of punishment both given and received by these two bohemoths Friday night. But when the game is over and the bruises subside, the only marks which will remain are those of respect and a common path shared.
Such are the ties that bind.