Thinking about the NBA center brings me back to one of my favorite albums, Andre 3000’s The Love Below. In wondering where did all the real women go, Andre speculates that maybe they disappeared with the dinosaurs. I’m under the belief that the NBA center accompanied them in their disappearance.
The NBA center I grew up on is long gone. At one point there was no shortage of “skilled’ NBA big men. I still remember marveling at David Robinson’s athleticism, Brad Daugherty’s floor vision, Patrick Ewing’s 16 footer, and Hakeem Olajuwon’s complete game. Then came Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq’s sheer power and size made up for all the skills he’d yet to develop. In spite of lacking the skill set of his predecessors, Shaq dominated from day one. Coincidentally, the NBA’s current best center has traveled the exact same career path in team and skill development. Could the ease at which Shaq succeeded have contributed to the death of the center?
The current dearth of centers in the NBA seems to indicate that young centers have chosen to forego honing their game, choosing instead to rely upon their size. As adolescents we imitate those who we’re exposed to and one day envision being like. In the 90’s there was no greater exposed athlete than Michael Jordan thus giving future guards dreams to “wanna be like Mike.” Obviously no center had received anywhere near the exposure of Jordan until Shaquille O’Neal. Thus, you have future NBA centers choosing to focus on dunking and bringing down backboards rather than work on a “dream shake”.
Truth be told, Shaq’s effect on young behemoths like himself is partly what keeps him playing today. Naturally, he possesses the knowledge of how to stop clones of himself…put a bigger body on them. Maybe one day there will be a renaissance of the NBA center, maybe.