Four championships from Shaquille O’Neal certainly stamped a tremendous Hall of Fame career, as he was introduced into the Hall over the weekend, along with guard Allen Iverson and center Yao Ming. The trio were cornerstones of the NBA’s transition in the late 1990s as the league moved from Michael Jordan to a bevy of new stars to help pace the Association. Iverson and O’Neal, however, were unique. The stars came in and dominated during the Jordan era while maintaining success afterwards. Iverson’s lone chance at an NBA title was demolished by O’Neal’s Lakers in 2001 but that doesn’t diminish a stellar career by one of the league’s physically smaller stars. Titles aside, Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate who had a more impactful career between Iverson and O’Neal.
Basketball Hall of Fame inductees Shaquille O’Neal (left) and Allen Iverson (right) speak during induction ceremonies at Symphony Hall, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, in Springfield, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Riley: Shaq entered the league in 1992 and completely reshaped basketball. He was the biggest and strongest player, and his personality gave him commercial appeal. From breaking rims to commanding double teams, there wasn’t a more dominant player in the NBA while O’Neal was in it, including Jordan. We’re not talking about titles but during his prime, he made three separate franchises title contenders as a focal point on each team. That’s impressive. Bottom line: If Shaq was on your team you had a legitimate shot at a championship and that’s something you can’t say about Iverson.
Green: No player has had a greater influence on the Association than Allen Iverson. Iverson’s game and style was unrivaled, and his smaller stature made him the ultimate underdog to root for. O’Neal’s size and power was a turnoff for a lot of fans because things were almost too easy for him. Iverson worked hard for every basket while constantly challenging bigger defenders at the rim. The cornrows, baggy clothes and iconic sneakers were simply pluses on top of the exciting and flashy basketball skills. Every kid couldn’t work on a dunk like Shaq, but anybody could work on a crossover like Iverson. He was a legend.
Riley: Iverson was definitely iconic, but O’Neal was a true force. An athletic marvel from college to retirement, Shaq was one of those unicorn players that you’ll never see again. It simply falls down to what a fan prefers: true dominance or an underdog to root for? Iverson was a player that the average man could relate to since he was an average-sized specimen. O’Neal stood out for his rare size but he lived up to the pressure of being that big. He was a big man that played like one and he was one of the last true power players of the NBA. The Orlando Magic won 21 games prior to O’Neal’s arrival and finished at .500 the ensuing season. He was a franchise-changing talent during a time when Iverson was infamously known to clash with authority figures whether inside or outside the NBA. Both were great but O’Neal reorganized the league.
Green: Iverson played for a few teams with better talent but his best days were in talent-starved Philadelphia. Despite exhausting a lot of his prime as a one-man army for the 76ers, Iverson still stood out yearly in NBA All-Star games where almost every player was routinely bigger and stronger than Iverson. He crossed over Jordan and he never backed down from O’Neal. He was the best pound-for-pound player during his era and his greatness might not be appreciated because he rarely played with teams that had the talent for deep playoff runs. Nobody competed like he did and no player had his flare. O’Neal might have elevated franchises but Iverson elevated the entire game of basketball.