Can Dwight Howard Challenge Shaq's Legacy?

By Kaylyn Neely

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers are set to send former center, Shaquille O’Neal‘s No. 34 jersey to the Staples Center rafters on April 2, 2012. It will hang alongside the championship banners that Shaq helped bring to LA, in the building that he filled with fans for many years.

Shaq’s contribution to the Lakers was vital to the success and popularity of the franchise. He played for the Lakers for eight seasons, 1996-2004 and brought them three NBA championships. He is a seven time All-Star.

Shaq’s size, intelligence, personality and dominance would make him one of the most well-known and loved basketball players ever. Thus far, he is probably the best center to ever play the game. And, the most entertaining.

Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004, due to a falling out with Kobe Bryant. The trade ended his tremendous legacy as a Laker, a legacy that has not had a legitimate challenger since. Until now…

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Cue Dwight Howard. Being traded to the Lakers means that he will be compared to Shaq for the rest of his career with the team. There are just too many correlations for it not to occur.

Howard is charismatic and attracts the attention of media due to his lively personality and value as a performer. Is he as likable as Shaq? Not currently. The trade drama was a huge strike against him. Yet, the potential is still there. The media is more intrusive today than it was in the 1990s or 2000s, especially in LA. Howard’s a great interview. His personality and performances, both on and off the court, will be broadcasted on Social Media and Sports Center. The hype will live on.

However, on the court, Howard will never bring dominance that Shaq did. Shaq overpowered his opponents with his size. Resulting in unbelievable and untouchable offense. Shaq averaged 27.5 points per game throughout his first eight seasons. Howard has averaged 20.6 points per game in nine. Of course, Howard wasn’t blessed with the team(s) that Shaq was.

Howard is a better defender than Shaq was. Three Defensive Player of the Year Awards prove that.

Howard is the better all-around player, but it’s questionable to whether he plays on the level that Shaq did in his prime.

As a pure athlete, Howard again wins. He’s a freak. In 2007, Kevin Garnett told the Orlando Magic‘s NBA website:

“That kid (Howard) is a freak of nature, man,” Garnett said. “I don’t know what they put in the milk these days for these young kids, but that kid is a freak of nature. I was nowhere near that physically talented. I wasn’t that gifted, as far as body and physical presence.”

If Howard doesn’t end up with the same legacy that Shaq did, then he will almost definitely be the first center to touch it.

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