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To Shaq or not to Shaq

Certain NBA fans can be brutal to some of the players their teams have chosen to wear their jersey. Whether it’s some sort of subconscious form of reverse psychology or the unrealistic expectations that these players must perform perfectly throughout each and every game, fans have been known to have their favorite punching bags. Miami Heat players with this distinction of being punching bags include Antoine Walker and Michael Beasley. Every mistake, big or small, made a player like this elicits groans and hollers from the crowd. Some players however don’t really deserve the unconditional love that some fans shower them with. The acquisition of the NBA’s largest personality Shaquille O’Neal by the Heat in 2004 to pair up with a young Dwyane Wade and form a powerful duo promised to take the Heat to new heights. While Shaq was very near the end of his prime, his larger than life personality and likeability instantly won over South Florida. In his first years with the Heat he was arguably the league’s most valuable player but soon his production would tail off dramatically and that's when problems soon began. In front of the cameras, Shaq was boisterous and charismatic but behind the scenes he soon grew tired of then-coach Stan Van Gundy’s coaching style and intensity. Anyone paying attention to Shaq’s body language during timeouts and conversations with his coach could see that they weren’t exactly on the same page. Frustrations grew to the point that Shaq became furious with his role at the end of the 2005 playoff series loss to the Detroit Pistons. Soon after only 21 games into the next season, Van Gundy all of a sudden needed to spend time with his family and left his post. Though to this day many like to lay the blame solely on Riley’s shoulders for the change, most who follow the Heat closely know it wasn’t as simple as that. It paid off quickly as Pat Riley soon after coached the team to the team’s lone title in 2006 with solid contributions from the Diesel (and even Walker). All those good vibes went down the toilet two years later in 2008 as a clearly frustrated Shaq, quickly losing mobility and desire to give maximum effort, pretty much quit on the team. Whether it’s because he also grew tired of Riley’s demanding ways or was ready to move on, he began accumulating many questionable injuries and would soon become merely a spectator on the bench while the once-championship worthy squad sank to new lows. Shaq wasn’t going to stand for all the losing and soon wanted to seek greener pastures. Riley was nice enough to send him packing to a good team in Phoenix Suns (whereas someone like me would have preferred to have sent him to a lottery-bound team). Shaq wasted no time in heralding his new team and their medical staff with helping him heal from his injuries while badmouthing the Miami Heat and their players like Chris Quinn, saying he was glad not to be playing with them. After another pit stop in Cleveland to chase another title and catch up with his former Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant, Shaq is now rumored to want to hitch his wagon to the Miami Heat. How convenient. Now that the Heat are widely expected to be one of the elite teams in the league with their new free agency acquisitions, he wants to come back? Never mind getting rid of his first coach before undermining him throughout their time together, then tuning out his preferred coach Riley and forcing his way out of a bad team when it wasn’t worth his effort anymore. Unbelievably, some Heat fans who are still blinded by his public image of charisma and charm want him back as well. Apparently, they didn’t see how much he slowed down LeBron James’ former team and how the Cleveland Cavs played better without him, much like what was the case in Phoenix. Strictly from a basketball stand-point, his lethargic game would slow down any notion of a "Showtime Lakers" style of game that coach Erik Spoelstra should institute. Who knows when he’d start complaining about Spo. He’s also the league’s oldest player. Now that Riley has finally cleared Shaq’s chunk of cap space after all this time with Shawn Marion and Jermaine O’Neal coming and going, he wants to come back when a championship may be near? Sorry Shaq, but you burned your bridges on the way out and Riley isn’t as forgiving as some of the fans are. Try your luck somewhere else and remember that it was your attitude behind the scenes and not in front that’s the main reason why.