Dreams to remember
The reason I haven't jumped to my own defense is that I'm taking care of some other business, business that has rendered me semi-incapable of viewing or caring about the playoffs. It's called driving across Texas when you're sick and ending up somewhere that's about to slide into the Third World at any moment. I both fear and respect this open referendum on my awful influence, but would invite everyone to take into account what a trifle FreeDarko began as. Then again, I think we believed this stuff much more ardently before defending it on the regular suddenly became one of speaking's preconditions.
It's also all my fault for there being no McSweeney's this week. I have two semi-shitty drafts that probably should, at some point in the near future, be loosed upon the interwebs. For now, though, I wanted to chime in briefly on the central theme of one, which I believe someone already touched on in the comments: fuck Shaq. He clearly needs an HOF-caliber guard by his side to seriously contend, and I'd hardly call his dependance on Wade' budding internal megaphone "proving the Lakers wrong." Yes, he's older, and no, I'm not claiming that he's not decisively valuable to any serious effort to capture a title. But Kobe's proven he can compete without him (how impressive does that near-upset look now?), as did Wade in last year's playoffs. And scary as Shaq is/was, we forget so readily that Jordan, master of them all, was the unquestioned ruler of his team as a guard. That Shaq couldn't deal with first acknowledging an coequal partner in grown Kobe, and then taking on the 1-A role himself in LA, suggests that his ego is every bit as impractically monsterous and unwieldy as TS's.
Who's to say that, were Wade not such a stone gentleman, we wouldn't have seen an accelerated version of this scenario from the minute he touched down in Miami? Does anyone believe for a second that Wade only suddenly discovered his own greatness in the postseason? Or, rather, is it any coincidence that he did so sans Shaq? Centers always need guards to emerge victorious from the frays that count, but Shaq's good fortune to have been paired up with such absolute fucking studs has to compromise his apodictic standing in bedtime story version of the league's history.
The better Kobe or Wade gets, the more championships they win, the more Shaq's reputation suffers. We've been taught to understand centers in terms of the Wilt/Russell dichotomy: Wilt, the freak of nature whose sheer presence was his best ally and worst enemy, and Russell, the consummate winner whose play was the essence of those twelve zillion Celtics titles. As his two "sidekicks" continue to excel, Shaq seems to drift more and more toward Wilt: breathtaking component in a dynasty, but not the man who himself willed it to exist.
PS: I think we all know who the wild card is in this discussion.
ADDENDUM: This is wildly lame, and I like most of you am too busy watching an actual basketball game to bother with this. But I've decided that my initial post really doesn't make much sense without this long comment/response to a comment I left earlier today. Consider it FreeDarko's first-ever appendix, and please read it if the initial post led you to doubt the reason I live.
People: I know who Bob Cousy is. I know about Oscar/Alcindor. But with Shaq, it's been assumed that life as the franchise was the center's to lose. And remember, conventional wisdom doesn't merely hold that Shaq was one of the finest centers ever: he's on the short list for MOST DOMINANT BASKETBALL PLAYER ever. This is what's fuelled his identity in the league, and what he and others have used to mount the smear campaign against Kobe.
Cousy was a point guard and Russell wasn't an unstoppable offensive force. Robertson was old and had toned it way down by the time he hooked up with Alcindor. Wilt on the Lakers was looking to blend in. None of these involve an "absolutely unguardable big man" . . .with an absolutely unguardable off-guard taking the heat off of him.
I remember young Shaq, and i'm not really going to put Penny into this conversation. But for damn's sake, his legacy rests on his rings, and his role in the postseason has always been understood as "no way to gameplan for him, no way to guard him, nothing to do but sacrifice lives for the cause." Aren't these things as true of Wade or Kobe? Who's to say that they weren't when, because of Shaq's performance, they didn't explicitly dominate the ball as much?
Shaq is thought of as bigger than the team, which is a strange thing to say about someone who has a teammate nearly as good as him. And it makes it difficult to say whether this delusion was intended to stabilize the order of a team or keep his myth at its apex.