With the advent of the 2004 NBA rule changes — no hand checking on the perimeter, zone defenses allowed — defenses started to evolve. By 2008 you had the Boston Celtics winning an NBA title with an overload defense where an extra defender came to the strong side to make it hard to get the ball in the post (and to cut off driving lanes from wings trying to isolate). To combat that offensive system, bigs who could face up, shoot from the outside, and draw their defenders out of the paint became more valuable. As younger players watched those bigs — Kevin Garnett on down — and saw the way the game was going, they started to emulate their idols. The game has seen fewer and fewer traditional bigs.
That or Shaq scared them all out of the paint.
If you ask Shaquille O’Neal — the greatest creator and promoter of his own mythology — it is the later. In the weekend where he is entering the Naismith Hall of Fame, here is part of Shaq’s Q&A with Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.
There won’t be another (traditional center) like me, and like Yao (Ming, also entering the Hall of Fame), ever again. We feel the dearth of the real center. I believe the way that I dominated, I made guys not want to come inside and feel the pain. That’s why you have a lot of guys stepping out and shooting jumpers now. We’re all products of our environment, so when I was coming up, I saw big men playing in the middle. The kids saw me playing and realized that they couldn’t endure the pain and nor did they want to take the pain. So they started shooting jumpers – a la Dirk Nowitzki.
Yea, that’s it.
This is just vintage Shaq mythology making.
Part of the fun of Shaq is the mythology — he was the Big Cactus, the Big Aristotle, Diesel, Superman, Osama Bin Shaq, and all the other nicknames — and he was a fan favorite everywhere. His personality of being a big kid loving the game was part of the draw.
But don’t take myths too seriously.