There are just so many similarities between Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard. It seemed like the most ideal situation for one Magic superstar to learn from an older one. But the two beefed way more than they bonded and that’s partly because of one weird reason – they both wanted to be called “Superman”.
Shaq & Dwight: Not A Match Made in Heaven?
It really doesn’t make sense that the two did not get along very much. Especially because their career arcs were nearly identical. O’Neal and Howard were both tantalizing center prospects with unreal athleticism for their size. The two big men were bona fide first overall draft selections for the Orlando Magic. Both former Magic franchise players also both love cracking jokes just as much as they enjoy dominating the paint.
Well, those could have just been coincidences right?
But even when it came to the career choices Dwight would make, it seemed to clearly emulate what Shaq did. Although Howard has so far enjoyed a much lesser degree of success.
Howard and the Magic lost in the ’09 Finals to a more veteran team — just like Shaq did in ’95. After a couple of uneventful seasons, Dwight left Orlando, the same way Shaq did, and for the exact same team – the Los Angeles Lakers.
But then after that, both of them bounced around from team to team, leaving both their Basketball References pages littered with statistically irrelevant seasons from their exploits with different teams.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a Superman Beef!
Early on in Dwight’s career, the two centers had a few positive interactions. But as Dwight inched closer and closer to his prime, Shaq was equally on the decline. This not only reflected itself in their level of play, but also in terms of their relevance in and around the league.
Everything truly culminated during the 2008 All-Star weekend. This was the first time that Dwight became the headlining big man for the Eastern Conference side, mainly because Shaq was traded away to the Phoenix Suns.
Not only did O’Neal vacate the starting center slot for Dwight — he wasn’t an All-Star at all. But apparently that didn’t sting as much as the fact that Shaq felt Dwight took away another title from him that night – Superman.
To say that O’Neal is a massive fan of Superman is as clearly a Shaq-sized understatement. He’s got tons of Superman merchandise and custom-made Superman items collected over the years. He actually has the Kryptonian’s insignia tattooed on his arm. Shaq’s even starred in a DC superhero movie.
In what Howard felt was a tribute to his superstar center predecessor, Dwight donned the Superman cape during the ’08 Slam Dunk Contest. He won the dunk contest that night as Superman and was announced as such during the All-Star Game itself the next day.
What Dwight thought was a tribute however clearly rubbed Shaq the wrong way. O’Neal responded with outright denial that Howard could even be considered as Superman.
“Superman is still mine,” O’Neal said last week. “He [Howard] has to do something first to be called Superman. Anyone can win a slam-dunk contest. The real Superman is dead. He was assassinated by Pat Riley [in Miami].”
It’s clear that Shaq felt that the title of Superman had to be earned — not just used as a novelty persona for winning a dunk contest.
What’s with the beef?
The reasons behind this seemingly random feud could be understood from many different angles.
One was that Shaq might have felt that threatened by the emergence of Dwight. O’Neal was no longer the imposing force that he once was, and here comes another superstar center following in his footsteps sooner than he would have liked.
Another might be that O’Neal might have felt that Dwight was claiming stake as the league’s premier big man without necessarily earning it. Shaq went through hell and back in the 90’s.
Despite having the size and strength to bully just about anybody on earth, the legendary centers of the 90’s didn’t give O’Neal a free pass to superstardom without giving him a few bumps and bruises along the way.
Or it could have just been that Shaq just loved Superman way too much to let another player steal the moniker from him.
Most likely though, it’s probably a combination of all three. Despite overwhelming similarities between the two overpowering star centers, O’Neal and Howard could never really get along.
Apparently, this world isn’t big enough for two Supermen.