By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer
Giannis Antetokounmpo just wrapped up one of the most impressive three-year runs in recent NBA history. Since 2018 Antetokounmpo has won two MVPs, Defensive Player of the Year, an NBA Championship and a Finals MVP at the age of 26. Antetokounmpo’s imposing play style along with his stats and poor free throw shooting makes him comparable to, none other than, Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.
Shaquille O’Neal, or Shaq, has gone by many names over the years. These names include “Diesel,” “Dr. O’Neal,” and one of the more popular ones, “Superman.” Shaq found pride in his “Superman” nickname, and even has the Superman logo tattooed on his arm. It’s not a title he gives up easily. When Dwight Howard tried to adopt the nickname, Shaq spoke out against it.
“’Superman’ is still mine,” Shaq said to the Orlando Sentinel. “He [Howard] has to do something first to be called Superman.”
However, the rarely humble Shaq approached this topic differently when talking about Antetokounmpo. In a 2019 episode of Shaq’s podcast, “The Big Podcast with Shaq,” he addressed the comparisons between himself and Antetokounmpo.
“He’s [Antetokounmpo] better, and that’s why I gave up my ‘Superman’ title to him,” Shaq said in the podcast.
Despite coming from Shaq himself, this still comes off as a bold claim since he is widely known as an all-time great. Four championships, one MVP and three Finals MVPs later, Shaq is often called “the most dominant force in NBA history.” Antetokounmpo’s resume and legacy don’t quite measure up to Shaq’s just yet, but let’s put this into perspective; When comparing their averages at the age of 26, they are remarkably similar.
For the seasons they each turned 26, Shaq averaged 28.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in the 1998 season. Antetokounmpo averaged 28.1 points, 11 rebounds and 5.9 assists in the 2021 season. Not only are the stats identical, their play styles are very alike as well. Both dominated inside the paint by using their strength and size to score efficiently, with little to no intention of shooting the ball from three. In 1998 Shaq didn’t attempt a single three pointer. In the 2021 season, where teams averaged a record-setting 34.6 three point attempts per game, Antetokounmpo attempted 3.6 per game.
Despite their lack of shooting, the two did not disappoint in their first Finals appearances. In 2000 Shaq won his first Finals MVP on averages of 38 points, 16.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists, winning the series in six games against the Indiana Pacers. In 2021, Antetokounmpo won his first Finals MVP with averages of 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5 assists, also winning the series in six games, this time against the Phoenix Suns. After Antetokounmpo’s win, Shaq made an Instagram post to give praise and double down on the passing of the “Superman” title.
“It’s only one ‘Superman’ now and that’s you,” Shaq said in his instagram caption congratulating Antetokounmpo.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the modern day Shaquille O’Neal. A 7-footer who uses his strength and size to dominate his opponents and put up elite numbers with little to no shooting. While Shaq was over 300 pounds for most of his career, Antetokounmpo’s slimmer frame is better adept for today’s league where he’s in more situations to have to guard quicker and smaller players. Antetokounmpo has the body, he has the numbers, he has the resume and now he has the “Superman” title. When the original “Superman” says it himself, it’s hard to argue with.