It was inevitable that Rudy Gobert’s five-year, $205 million contract extension would make him a target of critics opining that the Utah Jazz grossly overpaid him because he’s not a superstar scorer.
It took some time for one of the most predictable detractors to weigh in, but Shaquille O’Neal has finally registered his displeasure.
The NBA Hall of Famer-turned-TNT commentator took aim at the Frenchman both on a podcast and in an Instagram post over the weekend, eventually prompting a pair of responses from Gobert.
O’Neal, who has a long history of denigrating modern NBA players — and centers in particular — in his role as an analyst, made a recent appearance on the “All Things Covered” podcast with Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson and former NFL cornerback Bryant McFadden.
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When asked what he thought of big-man play in the league right now (at the 58:29 mark), O’Neal was initially dismissive in general before turning his ire specifically to Gobert.
“I’m looking at the B.S. contract that your boy from Utah just got,” O’Neal said in reference to Gobert. “… I’m not gonna hate, but this should be an inspiration to all the little kids out there — you average 11 points in the NBA, you can get 200 million.”
Gobert has career averages of 11.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game, and is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. So far in 2020-21, he is putting up 14.5 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks.
When McFadden noted that while Gobert has never registered big scoring numbers he is highly regarded for his rebounding and defense, O’Neal replied, “Stop it. Oh, stop it.” When a by-then-laughing McFadden responded, “I’m just trying to look for a silver lining,” O’Neal countered: “The silver lining is he has a great agent.”
That wasn’t the end of it, either.
O’Neal followed with an Instagram post including a photoshopped image of him from his playing days with the Lakers dunking over Gobert. O’Neal’s message in the post read, “I would [have] had 45 pts, 16 rebound[s] ten missed free throws in three quarters. He woulda had 11 pts four rebounds and fouled out in 3 quarters. I’m a G.”
Gobert responded to the post with four laughing/crying emojis, followed by the comment, “i guess we’ll never know.”
When the twitter account @slcdunk included a screenshot of the exchange with the comment, “The most random beef ever,” Gobert quote-tweeted it with a taking-the-high-road message, noting the apparent antagonism was one-sided.
“There is no beef. If people wanna keep speaking negatively about me or keep discrediting what i do it’s on them and all that does is show who they are,” Gobert wrote. “I will always be happy for a brother beating the odds. And i’m gonna keep beating the odds.”
His decision not to take it personally seems a smart one given O’Neal’s years-long habit of lobbing petty and not particularly insightful criticism at any center who becomes the subject of any modicum of praise, apparently believing it denigrates his legacy as the self-proclaimed “most dominant big man ever.”
O’Neal has had a long-running feud with current 76ers center Dwight Howard, dating all the way back to the 2008 Slam Dunk contest, when Howard donned a Superman-themed outfit, which led O’Neal to accuse him of stealing his persona. O’Neal has hardly missed an opportunity since to take swipes at Howard, among others.
The 15-time All-Star laughably couched his personal attacks as constructive criticism.
“A lot of people think it’s hate. I tell young fellas all the time … ‘If I’m saying something, what you need to do is look at what I’m saying. Really, I’m just trying to help you. I know what I’m talking about,’” O’Neal said. “… I go overboard now and then, but I don’t go overboard in a hateful way, I go overboard in an informational way. A lot of people think I was jumping on Dwight Howard. No man, I’m telling you how to be a great big man.”
When Howard took to Instagram in October to celebrate his long-sought NBA championship with the Lakers, O’Neal’s “informational” and helpful suggestion on “how to be a great big man” consisted of telling Howard, “Post one pic and sit yo ass down...Shut yo ass up. You ain’t do nothing.”
Furthermore, his “insight” frequently emanates through the prism of self-aggrandizement, and features not all that much information to begin with with. Asked on “All Things Covered” which model bigs he respects most, O’Neal asserted that the current trend of big men shooting 3s is a direct byproduct of not wanting to have to battle him in the post: “When I was playing, big guys didn’t wanna come in there — they didn’t want that LSU funk, so everybody starts popping out shooting jumpers. The big guys that you see now, that’s all they do.”
Pressed to give some names, he eventually settled upon “the guy from Denver” — apparently unable to come up with “Nikola Jokic” — and … DeMarcus Cousins.
Further, the more O’Neal went on, the more it appeared that the root of his criticism toward Gobert is really dismay at the NBA’s modern finances and his anger at having played before the salary cap expanded to the point that superstars could earn in the neighborhood of $40 million annually.
O’Neal mentioned that his original sports love was football, but that he changed when his stepfather showed him an article about backup center Jon Koncak receiving an unprecedented six-year, $13 million contract from the Hawks in 1989.
He also spoke of how Gobert’s contract proved a “teaching moment” between him and his son Shareef, a 6-foot-10, 225-pound power forward who was a backup at UCLA before transferring to LSU this past season.
“I told my son the other day, ‘Bro, you messing around. Rudy just got 200 [million] and he’s not even a scorer like you,” O’Neal said. “You and him the same size, you can play defense like that, and you can stroke it.’ So I told him, ‘If he’s getting 200 [million], you need to step your game up so you can get 600 [million].”