Shaquille O'Neal said that Dwight Howard has "big shoes to fill"… (D Dipasupil / Getty Images…)
With the stroke of a pen, Dwight Howard won't just etch his name on a contract formally tabbing himself a Laker. He also has a chance to join an esteemed fraternity of big men.
That includes one of the pioneers of pro basketball (George Mikan), the highest scorer in a single game (Wilt Chamberlain), the NBA's all-time leading scorer (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and what many consider to be one of the NBA's most physical big men (Shaquille O'Neal). Not that Howard needs to be reminded about the strong Laker history, but the Mikan, Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar retired jerseys already hang on the Staples Center rafters. At some point in the 2012-13 season, O'Neal's No. 34 jersey will be there too.
PHOTOS: Dwight Howard's Magic days
Of course, the original Superman hardly sounded thrilled with another former Magic center going to Los Angeles and trying to match the four championships he won, three with the Lakers .
"I have three sons and I always tell them that if you want to call yourself big, then you have big shoes to fill," O'Neal said. "Anybody who calls himself big has big shoes to fill. Right now, he's off pace. He has to get himself on pace if he wants to call himself big."
This isn't the first time, nor will it be the last, that O'Neal's taken digs at Howard. Throughout Howard's eight years with the Magic, O'Neal went to great lengths to dismiss him. O'Neal observed Howard's media-savvy personality, his dominance in the post and his Superman nickname. It reminded O'Neal too much of himself, so he called Howard a "fraud."
Even as a TNT analyst last season, O'Neal's digs continued. He boasted on air and to The Times' Ben Bolch about Andrew Bynum's apparent superiority even though Howard eclipsed him last season in points per game (Howard: 20.6; Bynum 18.7), rebounding (Howard: 14.5; Bynum: 11.8) and overall defense (Howard: 48th overall; Bynum: 65th). O'Neal suggested on-air that Howard should stay in Orlando instead of going to the Lakers, unlike what the Big Fella did.
Even the questioner's wording to Shaq was intended to set him up at insulting Howard.
"Any comments about the sub-par junior Superman coming from Orlando to Los Angeles trying to follow your career path?"
If nothing else, this could at least strengthen Howard's bond with Kobe Bryant, who knows a thing or two about disliking Shaq. But as Howard will soon find out, the best way to respond to such comments simply involves collecting Larry O'Brien trophies. It will also be a good way for Howard to join the other highly acclaimed Lakers centers in the organization's rich history.
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