Shaquille O’Neal entered the Russell Westbrook-Stephen A Smith feud on Thursday night, with his argument in defense of the Wizards guard on Inside the NBA on TNT.
“A lot of people say certain things, and that’s just an unfortunate part of this business,” O’Neal said of Westbrook after Stephen A Smith argued the Wizards’ guard’s triple-double meant nothing. “When you’re a great player and you’re putting up great numbers, people are always gonna say, ‘Wait until you have a championship.’ If you don’t get a championship, that’s not a knock.”
The saga began after Westbrook’s 35-point, 21-assist and 14-rebound triple-double on Monday which made headlines not only because of the point guard’s contribution to a Wizards win without Bradley Beal, but what the ESPN commentator had to say about it.
Smith said the performance meant nothing to him, arguing because Westbrook has failed to deliver his team a championship to this point in his career, the big numbers he puts up in the regular season no longer matter.
Westbrook and his wife, Nina responded to Smith on social media and in a postgame presser the night after Smith’s comments aired on TV. Then, Smith, in a response the following morning, stood by his comments. The two sides have been silent ever since.
O’Neal’s entry into the debate makes sense. He played against his fair share of all-time greats during his 19-year NBA career. He knows how hard it is to win a championship even though he won four in the span of seven years.
While O’Neal is never afraid to flash his championship rings to win an argument, he doesn’t believe players who haven’t won are any less great because of it.
“You can’t tell me Allen Iverson is not one of the greatest point guards, you can’t tell me that John Stockton is not one of the greatest point guards,” O’Neal said. “You can’t tell me Karl Malone or Charles Barkley are not some of the greatest power forwards. That’s just the unfortunate thing [about the NBA].”
Westbrook is the latest in a long line of great players to face criticism for not winning a championship, and as O’Neal said, he probably won’t be the last either.
“Everybody had to go through it,” O’Neal said. “It’s not like we’re just picking on [Westbrook], all the greats, and we look at him as a great player, everybody had to go through this.”