When Shaquille O’Neal‘s No. 34 Lakers jersey went up in Staples Center on last night, they might as well as retire the notion of the dominant big man along with it. Shaq belongs alongside George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Check the Russells — officially known as the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award. The last true center to win it was Shaq in 2002. The only other traditional big man to take home the honor since then was Tim Duncan in 2003 and 2005.
Compare that to the first nine years the NBA gave out the award. Centers won it six times. And if it had been in place before 1969, you can be sure that Russell and Mikan would have shelves full of them. Teams aren’t built around centers anymore, because centers don’t want to be centers anymore. They want to be shoot 3-pointers. But just because they aren’t built like Shaq doesn’t mean they can’t try to play like him.
So while the Lakers say thanks to Shaq last night, maybe we should all say goodbye … to the last of the big men.