September 11, 2016, 7:12 pm
One Big Thing: The Coolest Class
Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming has to be one of the more compelling Hall of Fame classes around.
There’s so much to unpack there; game changing, world shaping stuff from all parties. Beyond that, from an emotional standpoint, these guys all brought a unique personality to the game and continue to add to the basketball community in their retirements.
It’s also great that Sheryl Swoopes gets to represent women’s basketball in this class; she’s an icon in the game and has definitely done her part to grow the sport.
Across the class, there’s a pervasive sense of cool. From a neutral fan perspective, Shaq, Yao and AI are all easy to root for. The things they could do on the court were unlike anything else.
Before I get too far I want to point out that there have been some bad looks from these guys at one point or another, and it’s important that we recognize the flaws in the people we honor and laud. Nobody’s perfect and the class of 2016 is no exception. My appreciation for their on-court exploits and off-court personality doesn’t excuse any warts that can be found. But I digress.
Shaq’s persona has aged well and he’ll always have a place at some analyst desk or reality TV chair. It almost belies just how much of a generational talent he was. Much like there will one day be kids who only know Michael Jordan as the crying man from the internet, there will be kids who only know Shaq as the guy who banters with Charles Barkley on TNT (who himself will be the man who can’t say most names).
Shaq might have been the most unstoppable force on the face of the earth during his prime. Truly untouchable with a penchant for charming fans and media alike, it’s hard not to appreciate everything he accomplished.
Shaq’s legacy comes with the wrinkle of forcing Laker fans to take sides. His well-chronicled beef with Kobe is the stuff of hot take dreams. Two of the biggest personalities the sport has ever seen couldn’t manage to coexist despite constant, unceasing winning. Mercifully it happened a decade before Twitter, but it’s still an odd twist to a legendary career.
AI was magic, man. Silky smooth and as big a braggadocio as the come. Vine was made for Allen Iverson- they just got their timelines crossed up.
Basketball is one of those sports where you can do everything perfectly on defense and still come up short. AI was among the best at back breakers, rising up and dropping buckets over defenders who hung with all the crosses and hesitations, only to have a perfect shot drop over a perfect contest. He made it seem like half the guys on the court were playing on ice.
His performance in taking the Sixers to the finals is the stuff of legends. The Answer had the clutch shots, the unreal handle and a heavenly ability to float through the lane and hang for acrobatic hoops. Nobody should be that quick, be able to see the court like that, fly that high and hang that long. Iverson was truly unfair.
Yao might not have the sheer highlight or sound bite material of the other two, but his significance to the game of basketball is nearly unparalleled. If you’re looking for a reason as to why basketball has become such a worldwide phenomenon, Yao’s a pretty good one.
Connecting two sides of the world with his 7’5” wingspan, his arrival signaled the NBA’s global takeover. While the on-court career doesn’t match up with Shaq’s or Iverson’s, his ability to turn people around the world into basketball fans will have an everlasting impact.
That’s not to say his career numbers are bad, either. They’re quite good. It’s just a shame that his career ended so early.
It’s also a bit of a shame that Yao didn’t fully showcase his personality during his NBA run. We got a little of it in his induction speech but he could’ve been a bona fide quote machine. My favorite comes from an old interview when Yao is asked whether he’d drop 30 points or 30 blocks after the interviewer learns he’s had 17 swats in a game before:
“I’d take the 30 blocks. If you have 30 blocks it will destroy your opponents’ morale. It will take away their heart.”
There’s just a whole lot to like about three of the newest names in the Hall. Basketball, and really life as a whole, is better with these giant personalities. Thanks, Class of 2016. Keep it real.