Shaquille O’Neal has spent years on criticizing modern NBA players on the set of “Inside the NBA,” but this season, he has taken the time-honored tradition of disliking his generational successors to a new level. While interviewing Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell on live television earlier this season, Shaq told the fourth-year guard “you don’t have what it takes to get to the next level.” He attempted to justify the statement by saying he was attempting to motivate the now-two-time All-Star, but that argument has largely fallen on deaf ears. A number of current players, including LeBron James and Kevin Durant, have defended Mitchell.
But O’Neal won’t back down. In an appearance on the “Dan Patrick Show” Monday, he argued that he managed to internalize criticism from older players during his career, and that the current generation should do the same.
“I’m just doing what was done to me,” O’Neal said. “I can remember when I was averaging 30, 35 in L.A., but we were always getting swept. And the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, ‘Hey you guys haven’t won a championship yet.’ Did I whine? Did I cry? Did I complain on social media? Nope, I didn’t say anything, because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a chief-14 classification to say that. What am I gonna do? Have a dispute with the greatest NBA player ever? So when he said that, when he gave me constructive criticism, I took it, and I listened, and I brought my game to another level. So these guys now, they’re pudding pops.”
There are, obviously, a number of differences here. The most obvious is that Abdul-Jabbar never had the sort of post-retirement platform that O’Neal has now. He is one of the faces of the NBA’s primary studio show, and he not only went after Mitchell on that show, but did it during a live interview rather than a segment geared toward analysis. Former players aren’t always supportive of their modern counterparts, but there is a difference between speaking as a former player and speaking as one of the league’s most well-known analysts. Shows like “Inside the NBA” exist to showcase the league’s best.
It should also be noted that the criticism O’Neal offered Mitchell was hardly constructive. It’s not as though he pointed out specific holes in Mitchell’s game that required correcting or tips on how to go about correcting them. He simply told Mitchell that he didn’t believe he was good enough.
This is, sadly, a common trope among retired players. Regardless of sport, most athletes believe that those who followed them couldn’t have kept up in their superior eras. The only difference now is that modern stars have the tools to fight back.