NBA

Shaq vs. Wilt: Power-point presentation

Share This Story

Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

MORE>>
 
   
 
Who's better, Shaq or Wilt? This question has been raised by several readers — the latest being Brad from Thousand Oaks, Calif. But the answer is more complex than it might appear. That's because, during his early career, Shaq weighed less than 300 pounds, and later on was so huge that only a cattle scale could adequately record his mass. Also, over the course of Chamberlain's 14-year career, his on-court role went through several alterations: In his early seasons, he was a gargantuan scorer and rebounder, then he decided to become the league's leading assist-maker and finally he became a defensive ace.
However, despite these wide disparities, certain meaningful comparisons can be made between the two most physically dominant big men in NBA history. For starters, their physical dimensions are comparable. Although both are listed as being 7-1, Wilt was actually 1/16 of an inch taller than this. Plus, Wilt was also at least 30 pounds heavier than his listed 275 pounds — which still would give Shaq the bulk advantage. Both of these guys were so incredibly off-the-charts strong that it's almost impossible to rank them in this category -- although Shaq would probably rate a slight edge simply because of his extra weight. It's certain, however, that Wilt had much bigger and stronger hands. On several noteworthy occasions he rose for a dunk with a helpless defender clinging to the ball — and lifted both the ball and his opponent with ease. No surprise, then, that Chamberlain was therefore more adept at controlling the ball with one hand than was Shaq. Moreover, there's likewise no doubt that Wilt was much faster -- from baseline to baseline -- and much quicker -- in a circle of influence with perhaps a 10-foot diameter -- than O'Neal. So, too, was Chamberlain a much superior rebounder — averaging 22.9 for his career, to Shaq's 11.3. Because of his lateral and vertical quickness and his powerful hands, Wilt was at least a four-space rebounder, while Shaq is at best a two-space rebounder. In addition, Shaq's inability to jump quickly allows smaller, bouncier players to beat him to too many rebounds — a flaw that has become more acute as he ages. Wilt was determined to become the best passer in the NBA and accordingly led the league in assists with 702 (8.8 per game) in 1967-68, frequently passing up easy shots to kick the ball out to a teammate and possibly record an assist instead of a sure basket. Still, Wilt was a much better all-around passer (4.4 career assists) than Shaq (2.6). These career assist numbers are even more revelatory considering the current rules permit Shaq to be double-teamed whenever he receives an entry pass, whereas the only extra aid Wilt's opponents could provide was weak-side help. The point being that Shaq was forced to execute many more passes than Wilt — and Chamberlain still out-assisted him by a relatively wide margin. Plus, even though turnovers were not registered when Wilt played, it's doubtful that, like Shaq (2.8 TOs per game), he averaged more turnovers than assists. For sure, Wilt had an easier time scoring since he mostly went one-on-one and since team defenses are vastly more complicated and sophisticated these days. But to claim Shaq faced better competition is to ignore the defensive prowess of guys like Bill Russell, Nate Thurmond, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wes Unseld, Willis Reed, Walter Dukes, Zelmo Beaty, Darrall Imhoff, Elmore Smith, Dave Cowens, Bob Lanier and Clifford Ray. Although it seems Shaq scores his points primarily because of his brute strength, he actually has better footwork that did Chamberlain. Unlike Wilt, Shaq has a somewhat dependable left hand, which he chooses to display perhaps once or twice every season but will sometimes unleash in intrasquad scrimmages. Shaq's baseline spins are also quicker and tighter than the Dipper's. But Chamberlain had one weapon in his arsenal that Shaq lacks — a fadeaway jumper. Wilt only used this from the left box, and the bank was always open. The shot was both deadly and absolutely unstoppable. In truth, Wilt developed this shot early in his career to demonstrate that he was indeed an athlete and could score points without having to overpower his opponents.

Centers of attention

ALTTEXT Wilt? Russell? Shaq? Kareem? Hakeem? Where do they rank among John Galinsky's top 10 centers in NBA history?
Compare this shot with the bricks that Shaq casts up when he turns baseline from the left box. Wilt had a dangerous traditional hook shot, but Shaq's modern-day jump hooks are more accurate. Field-goal percentages were much lower during Wilt's tenure in the NBA, but each led the league in field-goal percentage eight times. Shaq's lifetime edge in shooting (58.2 percent to 54.0) is explained by his being more aggressive in the low post and therefore coming up with many more easy shots. Neither was a passable free-throw shooter — 51.1 percent for Wilt vs. 52.8 for Shaq. But it does say something about Wilt's fragile psyche under pressure when observers swore he shot at least 80 percent in practice sessions. Wilt set more effective screens, but mainly because the rules were looser and the refs allowed him to push, grab and elbow the screenees. On defense, Wilt has a huge edge. Whereas Shaq averages 2.4 blocks, this statistic was not recorded back in Wilt's day. However, in examining newspaper stories from the 1971-72 season (which I did while researching "That Pivotal Season"), it's clear Chamberlain averaged about seven to 10 swats per game. While it appears that Wilt has a considerable advantage in nearly every measurable category, there's one critical aspect of the game in which Shaq excels — competitiveness. Wilt could play with ruthless ferocity upon occasions, but he was also liable to loaf through games — especially against opponents he didn't respect. Also, Wilt was infamously intimidated by Willis Reed's extraordinary show of courage in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals. But what about Game 5 of that series, when Wilt failed to dominate and the Reedless Knicks beat the Lakers, 107-100? Wilt was also routinely psyched out by Bill Russell's head games. Sometimes they had dinner together and were buddy-buddy, but whenever Russell ignored him, Chamberlain went into a funk and played with a noticeable lack of self-confidence. Although Shaq is himself guilty of taking a game off here and there, he never does so in the playoffs — and certainly not in a championship series.
So who's better? That still remains to be seen. In Wilt's penultimate season (1971-72 when he was 36), he radically changed his game, forgoing his scoring to concentrate on other areas. He made this accommodation to suit the explosive scoring capabilities of Jerry West and Gail Goodrich and also because coach Bill Sharman preached a fast-paced offense that often put up shots before Wilt could catch up with the ball. In his prime, Wilt averaged 30 to 39 shots, but in 1971-72, he cast up a mere 9.3 field-goal attempts. Compare his 14.8 points per game that season to his lifetime mark of 30.1. As the Lakers rolled to a championship, Chamberlain's playoff numbers were virtually identical. Instead of being his team's fail-safe scorer, Wilt concentrated on rebounding, defending, passing (especially executing outlet passes to initiate the Lakers running game) and setting devastating screens. It remains to be seen how/if Shaq will similarly accommodate his game to his new teammates — and especially to LeBron's particular genius. If, indeed, Shaq can reprise the same kind of flexibility — and success — that Wilt demonstrated in his declining years, then the laurels will go to him. If not, then Chamberlain will stand alone as the best power center ever to play in the NBA.
Tagged: Lakers, Knicks

More Stories From Charley Rosen


NBA Videos

NBA considering mid-season Vegas tournament? Posted: Jul 16, 2014
Adam Silver confirms the NBA has engaged in early conversations about the possib...

LeBron and Blatt 'will work together beautifully' Posted: Jul 14, 2014
Cavaliers head coach David Blatt on LeBron James' decision to return to Clevelan...

LeBron's back and so are the Cavs Posted: Jul 11, 2014
FOX Sports 1's Gary Payton weighs-in on LeBron's decision to return to Cleveland...

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    adidas Blake Griffin Los Angeles Clippers Revolution 30 Performance Jersey - Red http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Los_Angeles_Clippers/browse/featuredproduct/491845/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_491000/ff_491845_xl.jpg&w=100 59.95 adidas Blake Griffin Los Angeles Clippers Revolution 30 Performance Jersey - Red
    adidas LeBron James Miami Heat Revolution 30 Swingman Performance Jersey-Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Miami_Heat/browse/featuredproduct/498609/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_498000/ff_498609_xl.jpg&w=100 89.95 adidas LeBron James Miami Heat Revolution 30 Swingman Performance Jersey-Black
    adidas Carmelo Anthony New York Knicks Revolution 30 Swingman Performance Jersey - Royal Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_New_York_Knicks/browse/featuredproduct/620470/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_620000/ff_620470_xl.jpg&w=100 49.99 adidas Carmelo Anthony New York Knicks Revolution 30 Swingman Performance Jersey..
    Mitchell & Ness San Antonio Spurs Black Solid Script Snapback Adjustable Hat http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Antonio_Spurs/browse/featuredproduct/692239/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_692000/ff_692239_xl.jpg&w=100 25.95 Mitchell & Ness San Antonio Spurs Black Solid Script Snapback Adjustable Hat
    Majestic Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Logo Man T-Shirt - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Los_Angeles_Lakers/browse/featuredproduct/851828/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_851000/ff_851828_xl.jpg&w=100 23.95 Majestic Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Logo Man T-Shirt - Black
    Majestic Kevin Durant Oklahoma City Thunder Logo Man T-Shirt - White http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Oklahoma_City_Thunder/browse/featuredproduct/851842/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_851000/ff_851842_xl.jpg&w=100 23.95 Majestic Kevin Durant Oklahoma City Thunder Logo Man T-Shirt - White
    adidas Miami Heat 2012 NBA Eastern Conference Champions Locker Room T-Shirt - White http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Miami_Heat/browse/featuredproduct/890174/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_890000/ff_890174_xl.jpg&w=100 21.95 adidas Miami Heat 2012 NBA Eastern Conference Champions Locker Room T-Shirt - Wh..
    adidas Oklahoma City Thunder 2012 NBA Western Conference Champions Locker Room Flex Hat - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Oklahoma_City_Thunder/browse/featuredproduct/890384/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_890000/ff_890384_xl.jpg&w=100 19.99 adidas Oklahoma City Thunder 2012 NBA Western Conference Champions Locker Room F..