In the summer of 2005, when the Heat made the move to add the legendary Shaquille O'Neal to a team that basically had only one other "star" quality player, like everyone, my initial reaction was pretty simple. "What will the Heat do to make this work?" Heat GM Pat Riley had a championship pedigree, but for the better part of 20 years, Pat's dogs in the pageant were pretty ugly. Those Showtime Lakers days seemed like light-years ago and like his hair style, the thought of Pat's best years being stuck in the 1980's seemed like his legacy was cemented along with reruns of Miami Vice in those long ago times gone by. While he had mild success with the Heat as a coach and returned to the Finals during his years with the Knicks, Pat now had the "center"piece he had been longing for and if there was going to be a moment to solidify both he and Shaquille's legacy, the time was now and the window of opportunity was open slightly.
The 2005 season was exciting for a Heat fan. After several years of crappy basketball (with the exception of Mr Wade's first year playoff run), the combination of 2nd year phenom, Dwayne Wade and the Big Diesel, Shaquille, the Heat had an excellent regular season and worked their way through the Eastern Conference playoffs until a finals matchup with the Detroit Pistons. Shaq was banged up, D-Wade suffered a rib injury, and due to some bad play-calling by then coach, Stan Van Gundy, the Heat's chances at playing for their first NBA title disintegrated before Heat fans' eyes. Questions were asked, and the onus of the loss fell on two people squarely, Riley and O'Neal. What could be done? What moves needed to be made? Something needed to be done.
The following summer, the largest trade in NBA history was made and the Heat received some "hired" guns to make the Heat lethal in the eyes of some, and open for self-destruction by others. Pat Riley came down from the front office and took the teams reigns on the court and gave the team a legitimacy it was lacking with the former coach. The 2006 season provided the former, as the Heat came together at the last possible moment and won the NBA title that season. Times were great for Heat fans and the thought of a possible repeat seemed like a real possibility with almost the entire team returning for the defense. Well, guess what? That didn't happen. Not even close. The Heat suffered through a horrible season, marred by injury, coaching changes, etc. etc. The Heat were embarrassed, as was their fans and this summer has been full of disparaging remarks aimed at the team and it's players. Fun, fun. Through it all, there was one thing that continued to show while watching the team, game after game. Many people in the media and fans across the nation continued to bring up the decline of Shaquille and how he was no longer the force he once was 3 years ago, let alone his heyday as a Laker. This is why I think the "bad referree" scandal is going to the best thing to happen to "The Daddy" since the release of Fu Schnickens "What's Up Doc?". The Daddy will Reign again, here's why.
While Shaq's conditioning and work ethic has been an issue since his later days in LA LA Land, part of his decline in numbers and game to game dominance has been the way Shaq has been officiated in the last 5 years. Shaq's game went from being overpowering, destructive and intimidating while the "pussifaction" of the league has turned his game into slow, plodding and pedestrian. This is not conspiracy theory gone bad, it's simple basketball knowledge not run by the ESPN highlight machine. Wan't some backing knowledge, here's a quote from the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding the possibility of a referee dictating the pace of a game, "The referees who did speak said the easiest way to affect a game was to take a star player out by calling fouls. You give the top player two quick early fouls, and he has to sit down a considerable amount of time," one official said. Don't think that applies to all forms of basketball? Seems to easy, right.? Think about it? For a moment. And then apply that scenario to your favorite team or the player you root for the most. Kind of sucks, huh?
Now just amplify that by using the leagues biggest player (bar one) literally, and start to see the frustration of not being able to play the brand of ball someone has played for a decade or more. Quick, powerful spin moves turn into flying bodies flying 10 feet backwards because the opposing defender knows that the easiest way to get rid of a charging rhino is to tranquilize him ie: get him to the bench. Simple post move turn-in's become comical exchanges as 3rd rate players act the part of the battered woman who were hit by an abusive husband and hold their heads and necks and shoulders as if they were beat in a gang fight. Hopeless, talentless. That's the majority of Shaq's peers in today's NBA. Imagine asking Ray Allen to play post up ball for an entire game. How about Steve Nash not being able to distribute the ball but just shoot highly contested shots time after time. How about Kobe, the game's most potent offensive player, just playing the Bruce Bowen role on an offense and just shoot spot up threes? Wouldn't be fun to watch would it? Hopefully the "new" NBA and it's overly-criticized ref performances will free up the game from the terrible flopping and bullshit foul calls that have plagued the game for the last couple of seasons (sorry D-Wade, you got a boatload of bad calls your way too).
My hope is that Shaq realizes that this year will probably be his last hurrah and that between him, Riley, Wade, Zo and the rest of the pieces that will be put in place, the horrors of last year can be erased by a motivated, angered, hurt team and it will be Shaq who will make or break this season. As seen first hand by the viewing public, the Eastern Conference is still incredibly weak and even after the moves that have been made by the other contenders, there's not much to fear. D-Wade will be under the microscope so he will have to adjust to the change in perception of his game and Shaq will be the one to stand over the rest of the Eastern Conference surveying the damage he will reek in his final chapter of his legendary career. Have you seen Shaq's reality show? The man is lean. He's working hard already. That's a novel concept. In July, he's already moving weights and doing yoga. The chains are off. King Kong is reborn. The old warrior will complete the cycle of greatness. The old Diesel will take one long, last drive before shutting it down for good. Many will celebrate the final triumph of the old dog. It will be written. But by me first.