Yet two months into the season there is no denying the impact the 7ft 4in player is having on the Lakers. They lead the Pacific Division, one game ahead of last season's play-off finalists, the Seattle Supersonics. Once again, the former champions in purple and gold are dreaming of glory days. The Lakers had to trade a significant part of their squad to make way for O'Neal. But the former Orlando Magic centre is more than making up for that and is also lifting the game of his team-mates.
The 24-year-old centre is in the NBA's top five in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and field-goal percentage. O'Neal has scored 20 or more points in 27 consecutive games, the longest such run in the NBA, and has led the Lakers' scorers in 30 out of 36 games and in rebounding in 32 out of 36.
The shooting guard Eddie Jones is one team-mate benefiting from O'Neal's imposing presence. He now leads the NBA in steals.
Jones said: "We've got Shaq inside, good shooters outside, good rebounders and guys that play defence. We've got guys that can do every little thing out there for us."
John Amaechi, the England international who plays for Panathinaikos in Greece, is the English Basketball Association's men's player of the year. Sheffield Hatters' Vanessa Ellis won the women's award.Reuse content