For his first and only Dime cover story in Dime #38 (December 2007/January 2008), we wanted to get Shaquille O’Neal‘s take on his legacy, the new crop of NBA big men waiting in the wings and some of the most pressing issues facing the League, and basketball in general, at the time. I spoke to Shaq towards the end of the exhibition season one day after practice. His Heat squad was facing an uncertain future, knowing that Dwyane Wade would be out until at least mid-November, and the interview took place shortly before the team jettisoned Antoine Walker to Minnesota for Ricky Davis in an effort to keep afloat until Wade came back…
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Dime: For your cover shoot, you had a specific theme in mind. You wanted to be portrayed as “The Godfather” of the NBA. Why did you pick that premise?
Shaq: We all like those movies growing up – Godfather, Scarface, movies like that. That theme is big with me. I’m in charge. I have an RV with Godfather and Scarface stuff painted all over it that I drove myself from Orlando to LSU for a football game this year. People damn near ran off the road when they saw me.
Dime: How does the Godfather theme relate to you in terms of basketball and the NBA?
Shaq: I’ve paid my dues in this game to become the most dominant big man in NBA history. I came in and took out all of the great centers standing in my way, from Ewing to David Robinson to Hakeem Olajuwon. And now all of these young guys have come in looking to take me out, doing whatever they can to take me out, whining and crying. But it’s not happening.
Dime: Who, specifically?
Shaq: Yao Ming, Dwight Howard, guys like that. But it’s not so much them whining. It’s their coaches and their team owners. They’ve had to change the rules of the game just to deal with me.
Dime: How so?
Shaq: The Board of Governors meets every year to go over the rules, and every year they only have one problem – and that’s me. Their teams can’t stop me so they have to come up with ways to change the game to try and stop me. The way they look at it, the rules might not be good for me, but I’m just one player. I’m just one player, while 200, 300 other players benefit. For example, I’m the only player in the League that gets fronted and backed night in and night out.
Dime: Has it worked?
Shaq: Not yet. Maybe when I’m 50.
Dime: Do you think you get the credit you deserve for your skills?
Shaq: No. Absolutely not. Because of the rules, I can’t showcase my skills. And because I don’t show my skills, people don’t think I can do it. But I have the spins and the crossovers and all that Hakeem stuff. I’m programmed to do it all, baby. If tomorrow, David Stern said no more double- and triple-teams on me, people would be like “Holy shit! Shaq can do that?!”