Saturday, July 24, 2010

Leadership 101: Shaq

Shaquille O'Neal has been one of the great players in NBA history but his remarkable run of championships (4), All-Star appearances (15), and relevancy (drafted 1992) has come to a startling and regrettable conclusion.

And it's his fault.

The sad part is that despite his greatness on the court and incredible personality off the court, his wounds are self-inflicted and he should be considered a model for hownot to lead a team or organization.

His current basketball status is that of elder statesman. He is the longest-tenured player in the NBA and like all aging players, his abilities have declined.

In his favor, he was the starting center on a team with the NBA's best record last year and still averaged 12 points and 6.7 rebounds Those are good numbers for the oldest man in the league!

As far as aging veterans go who are trying to get one more shot at a championship, they typically have a label applied to them. A label that is intended as a compliment but often has the undertone of a role player who won't be playing many crunch time minutes.

What is that label?

Character guy.

Throughout his career, Shaq has openly mocked character players and veterans who subjugate their egos to win.

Shaq practiced "leadership by performance," which means it doesn't matter what one does off the court as long as one steps up during the game, which is not surprising for a player who relied almost entirely on physical dominance and skills.

He never developed the work ethic or appreciation for teamwork that a less physically gifted but supremely motivated player would have. Consider his early rival David Robinson.

Mr. Robinson, whose amazing skills came with discipline and leadership he undoubtedly learned during his rigorous training at the U.S. Naval Academy, was a character guy. Because of that, later in his career, the Spurs kept him and his eroding skills, and he was able to help them win another championship.

Mr. O'Neal has used "leadership by performance" his entire career, belittling the franchises he left (Orlando, Los Angeles, Miami, and Phoenix) in favor of the new one. He always stated he "makes free throws when it counts" despite missing almost half of them.

And that attitude and method of leadership is not consistent with being a character guy, which will prevent him from winning another title. Ever.

Shaq is done at four, forever behind Kobe.

If you don't believe me, consider the short list of contenders in the NBA: the L.A. Lakers ('09 and '10 champs), the Boston Celtics ('08 champs), Orlando ('09 Eastern champs), Miami Heat (free agent signings put them on the rise), and possibly the Chicago Bulls (same as Miami).

Shaq burned the Lakers, Magic, and Heat.

He mocked Kendrick Perkins, Boston's starting center. He has, in fact, mocked nearly everyone in the league, from Kobe to Dwight to Pat Riley to Stan Van Gundy.

When he was on top of the league and could beat double teams, "leadership by performance" was acceptable. He called players to step up and perform with him and match his level of excellence.

When they failed, he belittled them.

Now that he has failed to match his own standards, no team will give him the time of day.

The most damning evidence: LeBron James, who played with Shaq last year, won't recommend him to Miami. LeBron knows his skill level, accomplishments, and character, but won't play with him anymore.

Shaq has had a great career, but he'll never win another championship and be relevant again. His career is unfortunately over, and sadly, it's his own fault.

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