Shaquille O'Neal has a very strong case to be considered a Top 10 player of all time, and there is perhaps only a couple of players who can claim to be as dominant as he was in his prime. Shaq was a force of nature; his three back-to-back Finals MVPs speak for themselves. When he was dominating on the Lakers, opposition centers simply didn't matter, the Big Aristotle was going to get whatever he wanted in the post.
With the attributes and talent that O'Neal had, though, it is hard to fathom why he didn't end up leaving an even bigger mark on the game. His legendary partner-in-crime in the early 00s, Kobe Bryant, also spoke about how Shaq could have been the GOAT if he worked a little harder. And he wasn't the only one, legendary Lakers trainer Gary Vitti shared the sentiment, even though Shaq himself never wanted to be the GOAT.
Speaking to Kristine Leahy on Fair Game in 2019, Vitti gave his take on why Shaq never quite became the greatest player of all time.
(starts at 1:14 minutes):
Gary Vitti: "My dream for Shaq was for him to be the best of all time. That wasn't his dream. That's a problem. When you want something for someone more than they want it for themselves. But Shaq's dream was to inspire young people to follow their dreams at being whatever it is that they want to be. And he has done that. He is the best, I love him. As much as I thought he underachieved on the court, and he was a great achiever, we won three rings, he was the MVP of the Finals."
Kristine Leahy: "But you feel like he could have been even better?"
Gary Vitti: "He could have been the greatest of all time."
Kristine Leahy: "We had him on the show and I talked to him. Was part of it that you didn't feel like you needed to work that hard? Because no one was even out there challenging him. And why put his body through all that when he didn't need too?"
Gary Vitti: "That's part of it. The other part of it is the position that he played. And I say this in the book, that it's really hard for big men. Especially in the days of the dominant center playing in the low post with your back to the basket. The game's changed now, we don't see that anymore.
"But you take a little guy and you put him in the gym with a basketball and a hoop, he'll be a gym rat. He'll stay there all day, he'll make believe he's Kobe Bryant in his head taking last-second shots. He'll work on his skills and all that. What's a big guy gonna do? He's gonna stand under the basket and do the Mikan drill. Left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand, it's boring."
Knowing O'Neal's personality, it's no surprise to hear that he might have simply gotten bored of the way he had to train to be the best. In any case, he has made himself arguably the greatest personality in NBA history, throughout his career and even after. There may be many who feel like Shaq could have been the GOAT, but Superman himself is likely content with everything he did manage to achieve.