Friday, August 21, 2009

Shaq channels his inner Homer Simpson

Poor Steve Nash. The two-time MVP was on one of the best teams in the NBA for four straight years and never even had a Finals appearance to show for it. He's universally lauded around the league for being an ideal teammate, the near-perfect representation of a point guard who makes other players a better, a guy who runs an offense with the deft touch of a seasoned Lincoln Center conductor. Injuries doomed the Suns's title chances in 2005 and 2006, and the NBA's draconian suspensions for leaving the bench during a fight finished them in 2007.

Then, in 2008, the high-flying Suns - who were the most exciting team in the league under coach Mike D'Antoni, a Bill Walsh-like offensive innovator on the basketball court - led the Western Conference through the first three months of the season. But that wasn't enough for new GM Steve Kerr, who felt the team needed a force in the middle. Kerr traded for Shaquille O'Neal and dealt Shawn Marion, a moody player who was perfect in Phoenix's running system. Shaq brought his presence, low-post game and tired quips to the desert. Success didn't follow him.

The Suns were eliminated in the first round in 2008. They didn't even make the playoffs in 2009. And during that time D'Antoni was fired and Phoenix, for the most part, became just another team, walking the ball up, forcing it down low to an aging center eight years past his prime. Nash lost his coach, his system, and his best shots at a title.

And then Shaq took his reality show.

A story in the Arizona Republic details how Nash told Shaq about a reality show idea he had last year, which would involve Nash going against other athletes in different sports. Shaq thought it was such a good idea, he took it for himself, and Shaq vs. can now be seen on ABC, the same network that will soon be bringing Tom DeLay back in front of a voting public, this time on Dancing With the Stars. The first show was actually fairly entertaining, as Shaq went against Ben Roethlisberger in...well, it was some type of touch football game.

Phoenix traded Shaq to Cleveland in the offseason and it was rumored that Nash heartily endorsed the move. Nash, like many of Shaq's teammates at other stops, had grown tired of the big fella's comedy acts, the one off the court and at the free-throw line.

Nash does have an executive producer credit on Shaq vs. He must be thrilled.

"That could be me swimming against Michael Phelps," he probably thinks. "That could be me making awkward double fault jokes with Serena Williams."

So Steve Nash, the ideal point guard, the perfect teammate, a hard worker off the court, has had his basketball career and real life turned upside down by the rampaging O'Neal, who, like man giants before him, probably isn't even aware of the damage left behind.

Then it hit me. Shaquille O'Neal is Homer Simpson. And Steve Nash is Frank Grimes, the perfect employee doomed by Homer's, well, Homerism. And while Steve Nash will battle this season just to make the playoffs, he'll look to the East and see Shaq getting to play with LeBron, the third future Hall of Fame perimeter player Shaq's been paired with. He'll see Shaq making everyone laugh. And he'll see Shaq playing beach volleyball against Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor.

It's enough to drive a man crazy.

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