Shaquille O’Neal is without doubt one of the most loved, respected and feared players in the history of the NBA. Despite playing for 6 different teams and creating significant controversy at each of these destinations, he is still one of the most intriguing personalities in sport, despite his injury forced retirement at the end of last season.
His new biography, ‘Shaq Uncut’, is set to become one of the highest selling sport related books of all time for the above mentioned reason and one other key ingredient. Shaq knows and is more than ready to spill all the dirt that surrounded his career, fellow teammates and other stars around the league. It is basically one of those tabloid magazines, except this stuff is (presumably) not made up and not photoshopped.
The latest excerpt to be revealed identifies his short tenure in Cleveland with LeBron James and how he perfectly timed his stay to coincide with LeBron’s last days. Coincidental?
LeBron was a huge star. He was as big as I was in 2000 in L.A. when I was dominating the league. … Our coach, Mike Brown, was a nice guy, but he had to live on edge because nobody was supposed to be confrontational with LeBron. Nobody wanted him to leave Cleveland, so he was allowed to do whatever he wanted to do.
I remember one day in a film session LeBron didn’t get back on defense after a missed shot. Mike Brown didn’t say anything about it. He went to the next clip and it was Mo Williams not getting back and Mike was saying, “Yo, Mo, we can’t have that. You’ve got to hustle a little more.” So Delonte West is sitting there and he’s seen enough and he stands up and says, “Hold up, now. You can’t be pussyfooting around like that. Everyone has to be accountable for what they do, not just some us.” Mike Brown said, “I know, Delonte. I know.” Mike knew Delonte was right. …
I’m not sure if Kobe is going to listen to Mike Brown. LeBron never really did. Here’s what we do know: Kobe will definitely be in charge.
As a Cleveland Cavalier fan this was nothing new to me. For the greater majority of the NBA fan base this is nothing of note. But it does confirm what we believed to be one of the key reasons for LeBron James picking up and shipping off to sunny South Beach. Cleveland failed to earn his respect.
No doubt Mike Brown did some wonderful things in Cleveland and he and LeBron certainly had a great connection. However when you are the head coach of a professional sports team, in particular a championship contender with the NBA’s best player, it is not good enough to be his best friend, you have to be his coach first.
Mike Brown clearly was either too intimidated by LeBron, worried LeBron would dislike him and force him out or towards the end he was told by the Cleveland GM and owner that he was to somewhat sugarcoat his coaching of LeBron James.
It was pretty evident throughout LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavalier career that he was crying out for a veteran to grow under. He was thrown into the deep end on day one and never had anyone to confide in, to turn to or to support him. It took until his 7th year as a Cavalier and an NBA player for that to come, and by then, as Shaq said, he was already as big a star as O’Neal was in the prime of his career. It was too little, too late.
That about summed up the entirety of the Cavaliers decision making over the past few years of James’ career in Cleveland. People showed incredible and continued outrage that he would leave the Cavaliers, but what good reason did he have to stay, what did they do to truly convince him it was the best place for him?
Antawn Jamison? 35 year old Shaq? Mo Williams? The three biggest acquisitions over the duration of his career in Cleveland.
People wonder why he left.
Regardless of this, I think a lot of the turmoil could and would have been avoided had there been a coach with more of a spine. Mike Brown did some great things, employed some great ideas and certainly had the support of the players. Yet when it came down to it was there any of the 15 players on that roster that would have gone to war for Mike Brown? Did he demand the respect and loyalty that the other great coaches he met in the playoffs assumed?
Instead Brown, either on his own accord or under instructions, created an atmosphere of double standards, unnecessary leniency and basically deserted the idea of an equal locker room, something that is always preached in professional sports.
Perhaps that is the reason the rest of the Cavaliers were so inept in supporting LeBron James when it truly mattered, particularly in the playoffs. Perhaps that was the reason Cleveland failed to pull off trades of bigger names (although I believe it was the failure of the GM and owner). Perhaps it is the reason LeBron James is a member of the Miami Heat.
The best measuring stick for all of this may be the Mike Brown experiment in Los Angeles. Should he fail like he did in Cleveland it will become blatantly clear. If Brown thought pleasing LeBron James was difficult, wait till he meets Kobe Bryant.