All NBA players are large, but big men (forward and centers) tower above the rest of the competition. They are blessed with unusually hefty frames that they can easily use to their advantage out on the court. Even so, few athletes ever had power like Shaquille O’Neal.
The big man had a nearly unmatched combination of size, speed, and strength. The following sections break down each of those, all while analyzing Shaq’s size against similar big men, to show why few centers can match what he did.
Bigger Used to Be Better
The modern NBA is not a league with a huge emphasis on size. Being big has several advantages, but it also comes with some setbacks as well. That includes being slower both on and off the ball, not being able to switch easily, and moving slowly up the court.
In today’s game of deep threes, stretch offense, and constant switches, that’s a problem. It’s such a problem, in fact, that most big men now need to be agile and speedy for their size in order to compete. Most star forwards and centers move more like guards than anything else.
However, it wasn’t always that way. The 90’s and 2000’s had plenty of power-oriented centers who bull rushed or pushed their way through defenders with ease. Shaq didn’t just win, he completely dominated his opponents. Most of that was due to his impressive weight.
Increase on Increase
Shaq was always tall, but he wasn’t always the monster many people remember him to be. His 7’1 frame towered over most opponents. However, it took some time for his body to catch up.
The hall of famer entered the league at an impressive 301 pounds. That was large, especially given how much muscle he had, but it was still far off from where he would end up.
After getting some notoriety with the Magic, Shaq rapidly put on muscle. He turned his rather lean (for his height) frame into a much more powerful machine. His weight steadily grew from his first season in 1992 all the way until his team up with Kobe in 1999.
During his first years with the Lakers he weighed 340 pounds. That much mass, packed with his quickness and insanely accurate body control, enabled him to become the premier center in the NBA. Nobody could stop him, and it allowed the Lakers to return to glory.
Every year during the Lakers famous three-peat he gained more mass, eventually reaching a staggering 380 pounds in 2002. He could still move well, but was a bit slower. Put off by his lowered quickness, Shaq quickly went back down to 345.
After winning it all, Shaq’s weight constantly went up and down. He dropped to 345 in 2003, up to 370 in 2004, then slimmed all the way back to 320 in 2005 while with the Heat. He gained 20 pounds for his stint with the Celtics, then called it quits.
However, retirement wasn’t easy. No longer working as hard, he reached 400 pounds in 2017 and maintained that weight for the next few years. It wasn’t until he had more time to himself in 2020 that he tried to get back into shape.
He spent the last few years working hard on his weight, and now sits at 320 pounds. That’s still a lot of mass, but it’s much less than he’s used to. With hard work, he could go even lower.
Being big is not always good, but Shaq turned his size into a weapon. He was a true power player, who bullied his opponents to score again and again. He had a lot of quickness for his size, and was surprisingly agile. Those worked together in a way that allowed him to thrive.