Steinmetz: Is Shaq a great, or great underachiever?

June 2, 2011, 2:56 pm
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In the wake of Shaquille O'Neal announcing his retirement, I was asked on a radio show Wednesday where he would rank on the all-time centers list.To me, it's pretty easy. Shaq is no doubt up there with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. For the sake of argument, I'd rank O'Neal above Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone, although those two guys are in his ballpark.My point was that O'Neal was an interior force who dominated the game for a stretch of years -- not to mention won four titles, which separates him from most other centers.After I got done with the interview, my phone rang. It was a colleague, who said simply: "Or you could call O'Neal one of the greatest underachievers the game has ever known."As a famous radio announcer says, "Two things can be equally true."RELATED: Shaq announces retirement
Yes, O'Neal's legacy may not be as positive as it should be. When some people view O'Neal they see a player who was given tremendous athleticism and size and yet didn't quite make the most of it.They'll cite his outside-of-basketball interests as proof he wasn't as serious about the game as he could have been. There seems to be a connection between Charles Barkley and O'Neal -- as two players who just didn't make the most of what they had.Even if true, it doesn't take away from where O'Neal lands among the great centers. And he's got to land among the greats. I don't necessarily disagree that O'Neal could have been a better player. But what I'm saying is that even despite that, he was still better than virtually every other center who played the game.RELATED: Shaq career stats
His fun-loving demeanor also gives the critics some ammunition. O'Neal's good-natured and light-hearted personality played into the notion that he wasn't as serious as he could have been about the game.Some will also make sure to point out that O'Neal hasn't been very good at all the past few years. And they're right.Bottom line is there will always be a segment of people maintaining O'Neal didn't reach his potential. Maybe not. But whatever he got out of himself was enough to put him among the greatest big men in the game's history.