Shaquille O’Neal was so good he didn’t need to work hard in practice.
The legendary center admitted as much in an interview with Yahoo! Sports’ Graham Bensinger, noting he didn’t want to get beat up both at practice and during games.
Bensinger had asked O’Neal about practice because Phil Jackson has said in the past that he thought the big man could have won 10 MVPs in a row if he had dedicated himself more to the game during practice. Shaq never did answer the question directly, but he didn’t hold back his opinion about how he viewed practice during his playing days.
“In the words of Allen Iverson, ‘We talking about practice?’ Did I work hard in practice? No. Never. And let me tell you why. The guy that I’m playing against, they’re under me. So to try and show that they’re worthy of being an NBA player, they would touch me up. So it was my philosophy… I’m not gonna get touched up twice. I’m not gonna get beat up at practice and in the game. So I will chill in practice and I’ll give you all in the game.”
As it stands, O’Neal only won a single NBA MVP trophy, though he was named NBA Finals MVP three times. Perhaps there really is something to Jackson’s claims, though unfortunately we’ll never know how great he could have been if practice had been more important to him.
O’Neal also addressed the feud that developed between himself and guard Kobe Bryant—which has been squashed of late—and said he felt he needed to motivate Bryant.
“I had to figure out a way to get him to perform at a high level. And I realized that we were the same people – we don’t like criticism and we turn it into motivation… [Kobe] was a guy that I know if I talk smack, he’s going to come out and try and score 50. I think it worked perfectly.”
The duo won three championships in a four-year stretch, and O’Neal considers them to be “the best 1-2 punch in the history of the game.” Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen will certainly have something to say about that bold claim, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson might also disagree vehemently.
You can always count on O’Neal to have a high opinion of his game, though, so these comments aren’t surprising at all.