“Tonight’s the night. Tonight’s the night.
Tonight’s the night. Tonight’s the night.
Tonight’s the night.”
–Sean Bateman, The Rules of Attraction
That is the number of games Suns center Shaquille O’Neal has missed in his career. Among all the scoring records and dominating play, this is the number that should stand out.
It is indicative of his inconsistent effort. Indicative of him being all but driven out of every NBA city he has inhabited.
And while it will be buried in the annals of his accomplishments, it will always be a blemish. A smear on what should be a spotless record. Lest he remind you, “If I get hurt on company time, I’ll heal on company time”.
The Simple Truth: Shaq sits out games. He heals on the fan’s time.
He has not successfully played a full 82 game season in sixteen professional seasons.
It is this lack of motivation and fire that will keep him out of the conversation of Mikan, Russell, Wilt, Kareem…
He should have been where the ellipses reside.
After the Lakers pulled off their heist for Pau Gasol on February 1st, seemingly every Western Conference General Manager (less our good pal in Memphis, Chris Wallace) have been peeing their collective pants. It took about a week for our rivals from the City of Smoke to land probably the planet’s most famous ex-Laker to “solidify” their frontcourt and “bolster” their offense. And yes, I understand the concept of addition by subtraction, and that Shawn Marion was becoming somewhat of a poison in the Suns locker room, but what about all the other offers? Kirilenko? Hell, you could have had PAU! (Thank you again, Chris Wallace).
What Suns’ GM Steve Kerr got in return for arguably the most athletic player on the league’s most athletic team was a geriatric looking, out-of-shape, thirty-five year old (thirty-six in March!!) center in the twilight of his illustrious and storied career. It is a risk to say the least. Kerr says it himself “If it works I’m a genius. If it doesn’t I’m a moron.”
Well, at least he’s right about one thing.
From a fan’s standpoint, what the Suns’ addition of Shaq does for the rivalry between cannot be measured. It is the only thing short of a battle of facial hair between Phil’s beard and Mike D’Antoni’s mustache that could make the whole Lakers/Suns thing more interesting. In the past two seasons, I have seen Raja Bell try and decapitate Kobe. I held my breath for Boris Diaw’s life when Kwame towered over his collapsed body for what seemed like an eternity (I was certain that it would end with a dead and bloodied Frenchman). But just like the Suns in later rounds of the playoffs, the Lakers just fell short.
The Suns have had their number, and they know it.
Tonight, the Lakers face their past in more than one way. The first act of revolution is destruction, and the first thing to destroy is the past.
Tonight, the Lakers are poised to take the season series from Phoenix for the first time since 2003-04 a team anchored by Shaquille O’Neal.
Tonight, Luke Walton can finally wake up from his ice-cold stupor and avenge his father, whose reputation was classlessly sullied by O’Neal. (It sounds like the plot for a totally awesome Kung-Fu movie, right? They can’t WRITE this stuff!)
Tonight, the Lakers can prove the Diesel is no match for Gasolina (did I mentioned how much I love Chris Wallace?).
Tonight, Kobe has the opportunity to take his pinkie from a liability to legendary.
It is their time to put the league on notice, to spell out “VICTORY” in undeniable and radiant Forum Blue and Gold on the floor at US Airways Center.
Tonight is about killer instinct. Tonight is about looking towards mid-June and accepting nothing less.