Between the parades through Downtown Los Angeles, the three Finals MVP trophies and the booming question of “Can youuuu dig it?!” to thousands of celebrating Lakers fans, it’s possible to forget the turbulent times that Shaquille O’Neal and the purple and gold faced during their three-peat era.
But for Brian Shaw — the former backup guard and current Associate Coach of the Lakers — the rougher patches revealed why those teams were so successful.
These instances include a regular season tilt against San Antonio, when Devean George made a costly end-of-game mistake that caused O’Neal to angrily confront the young small forward in the locker room after.
But Shaw wasn’t afraid to stand up to one of the most bruising players in league history.
“(O’Neal) was guarding Malik Rose in that game,” Shaw said. “And I said, ‘Devean is a young player. What are you getting on his case for? Because he made one mistake? Malik Rose had like 10 offensive rebounds, so maybe if you used some of that energy that you’re using on Devean to box out Malik Rose, maybe we would have won the game because of that.’”
From there, the 7-foot-1, 325-pound O’Neal let go of George and “charged” at Shaw.
“We got into what wasn’t much of a wrestling match,” Shaw said, laughing. “He twisted me up kind of like a pretzel.”
At 6-foot-6 and 190 pounds, Shaw might have been little more than a stick figure to O’Neal, but that didn’t stop him from speaking his mind and physically challenging him several times.
A self-described “no man,” Shaw served as an antidote for one of the world’s most popular figures, who found himself often surrounded by “yes men” who never uttered a negative word to him.
For that, O’Neal and Shaw’s relationship was all the stronger. After a few days of stewing over the George incident, O’Neal accepted fault and apologized to Shaw, whom he later named the teammate that he respected most in his career, which will be celebrated on Friday when he is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
It makes sense considering that Shaw is one of O’Neal’s oldest teammates, as the “Shaw-Shaq Redemption” first hooked up in Orlando from 1994-96.
Shaw said that the connection was there from the very first day, as one only needed to make eye contact to know what the other was planning to do.
They later played together on the Lakers from 1999-2003, and Shaw — who shot 29.6 percent from 3-point range prior to L.A. and 32.6 percent after — claims that spike is a direct result from not wanting to fail the Big Fella.
“Obviously you have to double-team and triple-team him, so I think he helped me become a better shooter, especially later in my career,” Shaw said. “A lot of the time my man was going down to double him, so I didn’t want to let him down.”
Shaw considers himself a “student of the game,” and marvels at the effects that O’Neal had on the league, saying he “got a lot of big men jobs,” because teams would have to stack their rosters with centers in order to have enough to use their fouls and energy to guard the behemoth.
Shaw puts his old teammate up there with the likes of George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other great bigs throughout history, claiming that he would rein supreme in any era of hoops — including this one.
“I think that he’s arguably the most dominant player ever when you put together his size and his ability and what he was able to do,” Shaw said. “The game now is a perimeter game. … If he was playing in today’s game, the Golden State Warriors and teams like that that get away with playing small ball, they wouldn’t be able to do that if there were any Shaqs out there.
“There were teams that were trying to do that back then — Sacramento, Phoenix — those teams always got 58-60 wins, they ran up and down, they shot a lot of 3’s, but we had the one thing that nobody else had.”
And that was a man who left the NBA with 15 All-Star selections, four championships, the 2000 MVP award and the seventh-most points of all-time.
But for all of his success between the buzzers, Shaw remembers O’Neal most for the “big kid” that he was outside of them.
“(He showed) his philanthropy off the court and that you can still do your job and follow your loves and passions in the things that he did off the court,” Shaw said. “He got criticized, scrutinized for rapping and acting and doing all that, but he was a kid — those are things that he always wanted to do, so he went after them.”
According to Shaw — who had been doing television work with O’Neal for TNT and NBA TV prior to joining Luke Walton’s coaching staff — the Big Aristotle is just as generous with his time, money and humor as ever.
He certainly was back in 2000, when he signed a contract extension with the Lakers and decided to thank the people around him in a shiny way, buying a Rolex watch for every player, coach and member of the training staff.
“He was like, ‘I can’t do what I do unless you guys give me the ball and take care of me and do all of those things,’” Shaw said.
And with that enormous talent for giving, O’Neal even accidentally showed up his teammates sometimes.
Shaw jokes that his children were “ruined” by the birthday parties that O’Neal threw for his own kids. Shaq’s best Gatsby impression featured the likes of Build-A-Bear, In-N-Out and Dippin’ Dots, which he would pay to come to his gigantic house just for the party.
“All the kids who came would leave with a bag of stuff like it was their birthday,” Shaw laughed. “My kids were looking at me (on their birthdays) like, ‘This is it?’ after they had been to one of his parties.”
Indeed, the Diesel set a high standard both on and off the floor.
As the centers that attempted to follow in the soon-to-be Hall of Famer’s wake can attest to: It isn’t easy filling those size-22 sneakers.