LONGSHOTS: Shaq at the V biggest NH sports star ever?
By†Dave Long firstname.lastname@example.org
With Shaquille OíNeal taking his talents to the Verizon Wireless Arena next Wednesday, Iím wondering who is the biggest celebrity athlete to play in our state. While the new Big Three was here last year, with all due respect, even at their peak none matches the credentials of the Big Fella.
Each of the Big Three has the one title they won in 2008 and a combined one MVP in the regular season and one in the NBA finals. Though surprisingly he has just one MVP award in the regular season, OíNeal has three Finals MVPs to go along with four NBA titles and three scoring titles and is the active leading NBA scorer with 28,225 points. And given that heís signed for two years which he says will end his career, he has a shot to pass 30,000 points while with the Cís to be the fourth all-time scorer in league history. All of which trumps anything done by any of his new teammates.
So heís big in more ways than one.
The other guy who also took ďhis talentsĒ out of Cleveland this summer, and who the Cís will see at the Gaaaden on opening day, once came to the V a few years back. And while he didnít actually play, since he was on the end of the bench and right next to my seat on press row, I can verify that LeBron James was actually here that night. But while he may get there someday, since the queen of Miami hasnít won bupkus to this point in his NBA career, he doesnít stack up to Shaq in the BIG department yet either.
There have been rehabbers down at the ball park in recent years ó like the perpetually overrated AJ Burnett when he was still with the Blue Jays. Dice-K created a stir with a visit, thatís for sure. But the biggest to my recollection was John Smoltz when he was in the final stages of getting ready to pitch for the Sox two summers ago. But while one of the best clutch pitchers of his era is a big fish, compared to the Big fella heís still kind of a small fry, donít you think?
Babe Ruth came to play in Manchester at least once back in the day. He was, of course, as big as they get in sports. But that was in the very early days of his time with the Red Sox. So he wasnít The Babe when he came here. He was just some promising teenage hurler that folks might have been curious about. Kind of like when Clay Buchholz came to town with the C-Dogs and then-F-Cat manager, earth to Bill (Sunday) Masse, went ballistic because locals in the heart of Red Sox Nation had the temerity to cheer for a Red Sox farm hand after a nice outing against what amounts to be the future enemy.
The NASCAR kids who come twice a year bring some big guys from that world ó but, sorry, if it ainít Richard Petty they donít compare. Iím sure a run by Dale Earnhardt senior or junior is bigger to gearheads, but it doesnít compute for me. And the Clint Boyer controversy doesnít match Shaqís feud with Kobe either.
There was Matt Bonner coming here with the Spurs ó but even if he were on par with the Big Aristotle he wouldnít count ícause heís local. Besides, heís not as big as Spurs teammate Tim Duncan, who you can make a case for being equal or close to the player Shaq is. But then Shaq can throw in the movies heís made, bad as they were, the rap CDís and best of the all, the funny ESPN spot when police officer OíNeal pulls a spooked team mascot out of a tree. Duncanís great but he doesnít have the personality.
The baseball dinner brought itís share of big names and I would say that Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Jimmy Foxx and Mickey Mantle are on par with him. And for a short time you could even kinda, sorta make a case for footballer Paul Hornung as big in the early days of the Vince Lombardi run in Green Bay and who for some strange reason was at the Dinner in 1963. But none of those guys were in uniform when they were here so I donít think we can count them either.
Rick Pitino was here 10 years ago after the NBA lockout ended during the Csí win-the-fans-back PR tour at SNHU. He was also at Tom Sullivan and Stan Spirouís camp as a speaker in the days when it was NHC and he was at BU. And that was before slinking out of town after quitting with a promise to be back and the sordid extortion trail stemming from the on-the-table incident at the Italian restaurant with a woman who was not his wife. But with the stature that is ó shall we say ó diminished and just one NCAA title to his credit. Robert Parish also had a camp with those as well ó but while great, Robert ainít quite Shaq, though the clamor he caused while I was having lunch with him in the Backroom one day back then was certainly noteworthy.
Yaz was just at a Plausauwa Valley for the annual Chip Allard Golf outing earlier in the month. But (a) he was just doing some grip and grins for photos and (b) that ainít his sport, so it doesnít count. Even if you can make a case that his sensational year during the Impossible Dream of 1967 is far better than any year than Shaq-fu ever had.
Maybe he gets eclipsed the next time the primary rolls around when Sarah Palin is running. That is if the mama grizzly puts on a pair of Nikes to remind all she was a barracuda as a point guard for the Alaskan state champs back in the day. But that wonít be a real game, just a photo opp. That doesnít make it, so she doesnít get my vote.
So while Iím sure someone in the Historic Association will come up with a few names for me, Iím going with the Big Fella at the start of what Iím betting will be a fun year with the guy on hand whoís about to become the biggest sports celeb to ever play in the Granite State come Wednesday night at the V.
Dave Long can be reached at email@example.com. He hosts Saturday Morning Sports with Dave Long 11 a.m. to noon Saturdays on WGAM Ė The Game 1250-AM in Manchester and 900-AM in Nashua.