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Shaquille O’Neal: NBA soft when I played, softer now

Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille O’Neal


There’s no shortage of former players who claim the NBA was better/tougher/whatever back in their day.

Shaquille O’Neal puts a slightly different spin on it while dissing kids these days.

Shaq, via the Wall Street Journal:

It was actually kind of soft when I played, too. Before I played, that was the real NBA, and I’m sure the guys that played before me would say that’s the real NBA. But before I came in, with Mike playing against Detroit and the Bad Boys – that was the real NBA. I kind of played in the soft era, also. And then of course, with me being dominant, everybody crying about the rules, that just made it more so. But now it’s very soft.

Did the Pistons defend Michael Jordan toughly? Yes. Did Jordan need toughness to overcome that toughness? Of course.

I don’t want to demean the toughness of players in that generation. They were definitely tough.

But so were players in Shaq’s generation, and so are players now.

There’s no perfect way to measure toughness. There are fewer fights now, and if that’s all Shaq means, OK. But watch an average game from the 1980s and notice how loose the defense is. Defenders are much tougher with their man today. Just because the league has eliminated the grind that overwhelmed many games in the 1990s doesn’t mean the NBA is no longer tough.

I’ve never liked “back in my day arguments” that are based more on sentiment than reality. Shaq throwing his own generation under the bus doesn’t make it any better.