There appears to be room for only one Superman in Los Angeles.
Lakers center Dwight Howard called out Shaquille O’Neal on Thursday, responding to the former Lakers star and TNT analyst’s comments that both the Philadelphia 76ers’ Andrew Bynum and the Brooklyn Nets’ Brook Lopez are the best true big men in the game today.
“I don’t care what Shaq says,” Howard told reporters after practice. “Shaq played the game. He’s done. He’s gone. It’s time to move on.”
Speaking in a roundtable discussion with fellow TNT analysts posted on NBA.com last week, O’Neal placed Howard below Lopez and Bynum because of his “pick-and-roll” style of play.
“We as players, we always watch people before us,” O’Neal said. “When I came in, it was Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon, guys who played like true centers who played inside. What we have now are centers that are going to the European style, which is a lot of pick-and-roll. Dwight Howard, who’s a pick-and-roll player, some people say he’s the best center in the league, but me being an old-school center, I’m going to go with Robin Lopez and Andrew Bynum because they play with their back to the basket.”
O’Neal later corrected himself to say he was speaking about Brook Lopez and not his brother, Robin, who plays for the New Orleans Hornets.
Howard, who practiced without any limitations for the third straight day as he recovers from offseason back surgery, pointed out what he perceived as O’Neal being a hypocrite.
“He hated the fact when he played that the older guys were talking about him and how he played and now he’s doing the exact same thing,” Howard said. “Just let it go. There’s no sense for him to be talking trash to me. He did his thing in the league. He’s one of the most dominant players to ever play the game. Just sit back and relax. You did your thing. Your time is up. So, I don’t really care. I don’t really care. He can say whatever he wants to say.”
Howard is the latest in a long line of dominant big men in Lakers history, from George Mikan, to Wilt Chamberlain, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to O’Neal.
The Lakers plan to retire O’Neal’s jersey at halftime of their game against the Dallas Mavericks on April 2.
When asked if he would want to get on the same page with O’Neal prior to the retirement ceremony, Howard replied, “What do we need to get on the same page for?”
“I have respect for him and what he did for basketball. That’s it. Like I said, he’s already did his thing. He played. When my time is up, there’s going to be somebody else who can do everything I can do, and probably do it better. Instead of me talking about him, I’ll do my job to try to help him to get to where I’m at. I think that’s what guys who have done it before us should do.”
This is not the first time O’Neal has publicly disparaged Howard. He told the Times-Picayune in New Orleans last month that he had “no reaction” to Howard joining the Lakers and said the 26-year-old Howard still had a lot left to prove.
“You have to care to have a reaction,” O’Neal said. “I’ve got businesses to run. I always tell people that in order to step in my shoes you have big shoes to fill. For him, he’s going to have to at least win three (titles) to get people’s respect.”
O’Neal won the first of his four championships at 27, the same age Howard will turn in December. Howard has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards in his first eight seasons in the NBA, however, becoming the first player in the history of the league to win three in a row.
According to multiple sources with knowledge of Howard’s thinking, one of the reasons it took him so long to warm to the idea of joining the Lakers when it became apparent he would be leaving the Orlando Magic was because he was wary of the public perception of him copying O’Neal’s career path.
When asked Thursday if he and O’Neal have had a relationship in the past, Howard responded, “I don’t know what we’ve had.”
Howard has been able to establish a relationship with at least one Lakers legendary big man, however. Abdul-Jabbar visited Howard at the Beverly Hills hotel where he is staying in September.
“Me and Kareem have talked,” Howard said. “That will stay private.”