Shaquille O’Neal of the Miami Heat shaking hands with Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers before a game on April 14, 2006. The Heat won 104-86. (via Getty Images)
How quickly time flies. We still remember the days when each of these guys got drafted into the league, but nonetheless the Basketball Hall of Fame has called to their exclusive membership Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming, and Allen Iverson today.
While Shaq is considered the pound for pound, best player of his era, Iverson worked in stark contrast to both Shaq and Yao, a 6-foot (maybe) waterbug taking on all comers in the last NBA era to feature low post behemoths.
O’Neal won three titles while manning the paint as a Los Angeles Laker. Starting his career in Orlando, the center made it to the Finals in just his third year as a pro before moving on to California. He paired with Kobe Bryant to take Los Angeles to four Finals overall prior to being traded to Miami.
Teaming with Dwyane Wade, O’Neal won a title in 2006 with the Heat. His time in Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston was less successful, but he did work on teams that made it deep into the playoffs before hanging things up in 2011.
Iverson’s career was a little more complicated. Famously, he fought valiantly with O’Neal’s Lakers in Los Angeles’ 2001 Finals title defense, a year in which would see Iverson win a season MVP award.
Although they would ultimately lose that series 4-1 to the Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers seemed poised to return to the Finals. However, even with a weakened Eastern Conference to work off of this never really materialized. The top-heavy design of his team’s makeup and Iverson’s own off-court habits led to other rivals assuming the throne.
After an endless series of trades bent on providing Iverson with a fellow superstar to run with, the Sixers gave up on the practice after Iverson walked out on the team in Dec. 2006. He was later dealt to Denver, where he worked for nearly two years prior to a swap with the Detroit Pistons. A poorly-conceived comeback attempt in Memphis came before a botched return in Philadelphia to round out Iverson’s pro career.
Still, AI averaged 26.7 points in an astounding 41.1 minutes per game during his career. Four times he led the NBA in scoring, and he also led the league in steals three different times. He dragged a 76ers team featuring Eric Snow, Jumaine Jones, Dikembe Mutombo and Aaron McKie to a 1-0 Finals lead against Shaq’s Lakers in 2001, and Iverson consistently played through injury.
Shaq on the other hand was not as durable, but he rarely needed to be. He probably should have won the 2001 NBA MVP (which Iverson took), but still won the 2000 MVP on his way toward his first championship with the Lakers.
O’Neal averaged 23.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks as a pro. He led the NBA in scoring twice and ten different times O’Neal led the NBA in field goal percentage.
Shaq was dominant from the get-go, upon being drafted first overall in 1992. It’s true that he had the good fortune of being paired with a standout perimeter player at just about every stop (Anfernee Hardaway, Bryant, Wade, Steve Nash, even LeBron James), but that hardly takes away from his impact. There was a reason, deep into his late 30s, that Shaquille O’Neal was being called upon to push a team over the top.
Those experiments didn’t always work, but more times than not they came close. His standout work crossed over eras, and O’Neal shares with his fellow Hall of Fame inductee in that he and Allen Iverson had to prop up the NBA in its darkest and least-entertaining days following the retirement of Michael Jordan. These two, symbolically, carried the league in two completely different ways.
As such, this makes their enshrinement appropriate. The tiny guy with the crossover that everyone’s junior high-aged son could relate to will take to the Hall of Fame stage at the same time as the larger than life character and player that not even the game’s greatest big men could ever relate to. Basketball, in spite of its proportion and shifting orthodoxy, can be wonderfully weird sometimes.
Congratulations, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, and the other Hall of Fame inductees.
Watch this short video with Shaq talking about his Hall of Fame journey: