Call from the Hall: CHD interviews Dale Brown about brand-new Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal

The Basketball Hall of Fame announced its newest inductees earlier this month and one of the lucky selections was former LSU center Shaquille O’Neal.  Shaq was a two-time All-American and named national POY in 1991.  He was the first overall pick of the NBA draft in 1992, ROY in 1993, and won the first of his two scoring titles in 1995.  From 2000-2006 he won four titles (three with the Lakers and one with the Heat) and was named Finals MVP on three of those occasions.  Jon Teitel got to chat with Shaq’s college coach Dale Brown about how he recruited the future Hall of Famer and what kind of guy is he like off the court. CHD congratulates Shaq on this well-deserved honor!

shaq dale

How did you get Shaq to come to LSU to play for you? I found him when he was 13 years old in the mountains of Germany when I was over there to speak at a clinic. He was cut from his basketball team and the coach told him to try soccer instead, but I kept in touch with him weekly from then on and told him to continue to work hard at basketball.

On 2/3/90 Shaq had 20 points, 24 rebounds, 12 blocks in a 148-141 OT win over Loyola Marymount.  What are your memories of that amazing offensive performance (your team scored 72 points in the first half and shot over 64 FG% for the game)? It was like a ping-pong match with the ball going back and forth from end to end all night long.  It remains one of the greatest games that I have ever been involved with.

He was a two-time All-American two-time SEC POY and was named national POY in 1991 after leading the nation with 14.7 rebounds per game.  Where does he rank among the most dominant college players you have ever seen? The list I came up with is Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bill Walton, he is right in line with the four of them. He would have been even more dominant if they had done something about the flagrant fouls that were not being called back then: he would get pushed and pulled all the time in the paint. If he played now with the current rules that are in effect he would be far superior.

In 1992 he led the nation with 5.23 blocks per game, what made him such a great shot-blocker? He had good timing and an aggressive heart.

In 1992 he was drafted first overall by Orlando and was named 1993 ROY after averaging 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game.  How was he able to make such a smooth transition from college to the pros? From the time he arrived at LSU he made a dramatic improvement every single year. The pro style of basketball fit his game well in terms of being physical. He got called for a lot of fouls in college against smaller guys based solely on his strength.

He won a pair of scoring titles in 1995/2000 and he was named to the All-Defensive Team on three occasions.  How was he able to balance his offense with his defense? The very 1st practice he ever had here he was unsure how good he could be: he said he would let others take the shots on offense because he just wanted to rebound and block shots. He was a great listener and worked hard to become a good offensive player.

At the 1996 Olympics he won a gold medal with Dream Team III.  How did he feel about not getting selected for the original Dream Team in 1992, and what did it mean to him to finally represent his country in 1996? I do not know about 1992, but I know that he was elated when he was selected in 1996.

In 2000 with the Lakers he was named NBA MVP, what do you think it meant to him to win such an outstanding individual honor? He was never a “me” guy who blew his own horn: he was a team player who embraced everyone on the team all the way down to the last guy on the bench. He is the most benevolent player that I have ever seen.

He won three straight titles (and was named Finals MVP each year) from 2000-2002 and a fourth title with Miami in 2006.  What impact does winning all those championships have on his legacy? It is impossible to say who is the greatest center of all time, but you have to put him in the mix. Everyone knows “Shaq” the great player, but only a few people know “Shaquille” the magnificent human being.

When people look back on his career, how do you think he should be remembered the most? I cannot speak for other people, but the kinds of things I remember are when he sat with a little boy in a hospital who was dying of brain cancer the day of one of his NBA Finals game. When he was at LSU he would go to schools and read to first graders: basketball is so far down the list of amazing attributes on his legacy. During Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita he drove an 18-wheeler into New Orleans with medicine and clothes…and the media never knew about it. He is a great person. One of my favorite photos that is hanging on my wall is Coach Wooden standing in between the five best ever (Russell, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Walton, and Shaq): talk about a Hall of Fame lineup!