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Lakers Shaquille O’Neal vs. Lakers LeBron James Career Comparison: Shaq Is An All-Time Great Laker

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Lakers Shaquille O’Neal vs. Lakers LeBron James Career Comparison: Shaq Is An All-Time Great Laker

Superstar center Shaquille O’Neal is one of the most physically intimidating athletes of all time. He single-handedly struck fear into the opposition because of his aggression and ability to dominate both ends of the court through sheer size. The Diesel won 4 NBA championships in his career, 3 of them coming with the Lakers in spectacular fashion. O’Neal also won 3 Finals MVP awards with the Lakers and an MVP award in the year 2000. In many ways, Shaq is regarded as one of the most impactful Lakers superstars of all time. A Lakers legend, Shaq accomplished everything with the Purple and Gold.

On the other end, LeBron James is widely regarded as the best small forward of all time and the most consistent player ever in terms of longevity. The King is a polarizing figure for the way he plays the game and also for the way he is outspoken, but there is no doubt he is a tremendous talent with incredible basketball skills. A 4-time champion with 4 Finals MVPs and 4 MVP awards, LeBron changed the NBA. But James also joined the iconic Los Angeles Lakers franchise in 2019, and, therefore, became part of the family. Unsurprisingly, James brought a championship to the franchise in 2020.

Both Shaq and LeBron had amazing careers and should be honored as two of the top-10 players of all time. But both players also have similarities in the fact that they became NBA champions with the Lakers and were the best players for the franchise at many points during a season. But which superstar had more impact as a member of the Lakers? Shaq played 8 seasons with the Lakers, while James is going on to his 5th season with the Purple and Gold.

To distinguish between the 2 legends, it is time to compare the careers of both players by their most important achievements and statistical categories. The end result might be surprising because both stars are held in the highest light.


Shaquille O’Neal: 3 (2000, 2001, 2002)

LeBron James: 1 (2020)

In terms of championships, Shaquille O’Neal has the edge, winning 3 rings as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. His first in 2000 was impressive, as the big man took control of the team by winning regular-season MVP and continuing his reign to dominate the Finals and earn Finals MVP honors. The following year, O’Neal averaged 30.4 PPG in the playoffs before posting 33.0 PPG, 15.8 RPG, and 4.8 APG against the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals. In 2002, O’Neal averaged 28.5 PPG and 12.6 RPG in the postseason before posting 36.3 PPG and 12.3 RPG in the Finals against the New Jersey Nets. Obviously, Shaq was the driving force behind all 3 championships and brought the Lakers the rings through incredible dominance.

In terms of winning titles at the highest level, LeBron James does not have the edge when it comes to Lakers lore. James won 4 titles with 3 different teams, with multiple Finals runs with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. Although he only won one title for the Lakers in the 2020 “Bubble” with the Los Angeles Lakers at the expense of the Miami Heat. James was arguably still the best player in the world in the 2020 season, and the pause in regular-season action allowed the veteran time to recover his body quickly in time for the postseason run. In the 2020 playoffs, James averaged 27.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 8.8 APG before averaging 29.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, and 8.5 APG in the NBA Finals.

Winning rings is the single most important part of a superstar's career, and Diesel has the edge over The King. Shaq dominated the court with Kobe Bryant as his primary teammate, while LeBron played with some all-time great players, such as Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. In the end, Shaq means more to Lakers lore because of his 3 championships, and that will likely never change. 

Advantage: Shaquille O'Neal

Finals MVP Awards

Shaquille O'Neal: 3 (2000, 2001, 2002)

LeBron James: 1 (2020)

Continuing about being the best player on the team, LeBron was the undisputed best player on the court for his 4 championships. Even if Anthony Davis led the regular season in scoring in 2020 or Kyrie Irving hit the biggest shot of the 2016 Finals in Game 7, LeBron was the Finals MVP every time he won an NBA championship. In 2020, James was the standout player for the Lakers as he posted 29.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 8.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 0.5 BPG on 59.1% FG, 41.7% 3-PT FG, and 66.7% FT. The King was too dominant alongside Anthony Davis (25.0 PPG, 10.7 RPG) as they took over an under-manned Miami Heat squad.

Shaquille O'Neal, on the other hand, won 3 Finals MVP awards even when competing alongside Kobe Bryant. No doubt, the Lakers do not win multiple championships if Shaq is not the leader of the team because his elite play in the post was undisputedly great. Earning three Finals MVPs is impressive, and that thrust him into the conversation for being a top-10 player of all time. Shaq’s numbers across the 3 Finals are literally incomprehensible because how could a single player dominate the game against other elite talents? Adding in the spectacular performances of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers' 3-peat run was truly iconic, and Shaq ended up with a trifecta of Finals MVPs as a result.

In the end, Shaq has an edge in the Finals MVP awards. There was never a time in which the Lakers won the title where Shaq was edged in performances. Whenever O’Neal dominated the court, his team won in the Finals, and that was a constant throughout his career. With 3 Finals MVPs to his name versus The King’s number of 1 Finals MVP, there is a clear winner when it comes to winning the accolade as a member of the Lakers.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

MVP Awards

Shaquille O'Neal: 1 (2000)

LeBron James: 0

Shockingly, Shaquille O'Neal only won 1 MVP award as a member of the Lakers. Most fans and members of the media believe the Diesel deserved at least another MVP award to his resume, although that would not have done much for his legacy, as it was already set in stone. But Shaq did win an MVP award as a member of the Lakers in the year 2000 when he posted a league-high 29.7 PPG to go along with 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 0.5 SPG, and 3.0 BPG. O’Neal was an immovable force down low, posting 57.4% shooting from the field in dominating fashion. Ultimately, that gives Shaq the edge in this comparison in terms of the number of MVP awards won as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The King managed to win an incredible 4 MVP awards, which ranks 4th all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, and Michael Jordan. LeBron might be the greatest regular-season player ever in terms of his consistency and dominance on the court. His MVP seasons occurred in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. So far, through 4 completed seasons with the Lakers, James hasn't won another MVP award. Going on to age 38 next year, it is very likely that The King does not add another MVP award to his resume because there are a ton of younger and hungrier players in the league gunning for the regular-season award. Without an MVP award, James loses another comparison to Shaquille O’Neal.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

All-NBA Teams

Shaquille O'Neal: 8 (6 First Team, 1 Second Team, 1 Third Team)

LeBron James: 4 (1 First Team, 1 Second Team, 2 Third Team)

Shaquille O'Neal made 8 All-NBA Team appearances with the Lakers, of which 6 came in the First Team. Of course, those are incredible achievements and we have yet to see a player with this type of consistency as a big man for the Lakers. Shaq was a consistent member of All-NBA Teams because his low-post scoring and raw size made him unguardable down low, and often frustrated opposing fans because there was no answer for him. Even if referees tried to prevent Shaq from using extreme force, there was no use in getting in his way. With 8 All-NBA Team appearances, it will be no surprise to mention that the big man has a big advantage over LeBron James when it comes to achievements as a Lakers player.

LeBron James has to be honored for his incredible longevity. He has played 19 seasons and made the All-Star Team 18 times, something impressive and even more incredible considering most players have not been superstars in their late 30s. Over 4 years with the Lakers, James has made 4 All-NBA Teams, with 2 of them coming with the Third Team and only one coming with the First Team. His First Team selection came in 2020 when The King was in the running for the MVP award by posting 25.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and a league-leading 10.2 APG. As a passer and leader, The King was a special talent and deserves all the praise for his consistent performance.

But again, James has played less than Shaq as a member of the Lakers and is not in his prime as Shaq was. Therefore, he pales to the superstar center in terms of total All-NBA selections. 

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

All-Star Selections

Shaquille O'Neal: 8

LeBron James: 4

Shaquille O'Neal has a total of 8 All-Star appearances as a member of the Lakers. While that doubles the number of James’ selections, it is important to mention that this was because the Diesel played double the number of seasons. Still, it is an incredible achievement to make the All-Star Team every season when playing for a franchise as iconic as the Lakers. Most big men struggle to stay healthy and consistent year after year, as they take a ton of damage when battling in the paint. But Shaq is one of the most dominant players ever and was a wrecking ball over 8 seasons with the Purple and Gold.

LeBron James is an 18-time All-Star, and he made every All-Star Team following his rookie campaign. So far, as a member of the Lakers, James has made every All-Star Team, with constitutes 4 total selections. The King is always a constant candidate for the All-Star Team because of his incredible all-around impact on the basketball court. With the Lakers, James is averaging 27.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 8.2 APG while playing 35.2 MPG. The King has had a great career as a member of the Lakers, and if he can stay healthy into his 40s, he could equal Shaq’s number of 8 selections.

But until then, Shaq has the advantage again. Over 8 seasons, O’Neal was right in his prime in terms of physical dominance and it shows with his incredible numbers and All-Star selections. James has done spectacularly well so far, but he has quite a bit to make up before he can match what O’Neal did in terms of All-Star selections with the Lakers.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

All-Defensive NBA Teams

Shaquille O'Neal: 3 (0 First Team, 3 Second Team)

LeBron James: 0

Shaquille O'Neal is not considered one of the greatest defensive stoppers in NBA history, although he was capable of blocking shots and defending the rim. At 7’1” and 325 lbs, he had the size to be a force, even if he just stood in the paint. But oftentimes, Shaq’s impact on defense came through raw intimidation because players did not want to get hit by the imposing big man. While it was not pretty to watch and O’Neal defended well through force, it was no doubt effective. Remember, O’Neal had 5 seasons of averaging at least 2.8 BPG. With 3 All-Defensive selections to his name, he edges The King.

LeBron James was a great defender in his prime, although he has let up on that end as he has aged. It can be argued that when James was with the Miami Heat, he was the best defender in his position. But since joining the Lakers at age 34, The King was simply incapable of leading the defense and instead focused his effort on passing the ball and even scoring around the basket and from the three-point line. James made 0 All-Defensive Teams with the Lakers, which is not surprising at all considering how the superstar forward has limited his minutes as much as possible and whenever he can. Once again, Shaq has an advantage in a Lakers comparison in terms of individual achievements.

Advantage: Shaquille O'Neal

Total Win Shares

Shaquille O'Neal: 97.0

LeBron James: 30.2

Win Shares is a statistic that tries to allocate a team’s wins for each player on the roster. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar owns the single-season record for Win Shares with 25.4 during 1971-72 on a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 63 games. In terms of contributing to a winning side and helping his side to win games consistently, it is obvious Shaquille O’Neal has a better win shares rating than LeBron James. The Hall of Fame center was a statistical darling because of his dominance on the basketball court as a center. His scoring, rebounding, and field-goal percentages were off the charts great, and he is often a direct contributor to his team winning games. Of course, Shaq won a ton of games with the Lakers and did not have the struggles that James has had with the Lakers in 3 of his 4 seasons.

O’Neal benefited greatly by playing under Phil Jackson and alongside Kobe Bryant, as that trio made the Lakers almost unbeatable on a nightly basis.

Meanwhile, LeBron’s win shares are not as high as Shaq’s over 4 seasons of play with the Lakers. The superstar forward influences the game in a variety of ways, including having a high field goal percentage and elite offensive ability, but he had some turbulent times when joining the Lakers. He missed the playoffs twice in the four years he played with the Lakers and obviously did not win enough games. He also struggled in the 2021 season for his high expectations and did not have enough wins as a player or a team. His best season came in 2020 when he had 9.8 win shares. Overall, in terms of the number of seasons played and success with the Lakers, O’Neal has the edge again.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

Career Player Efficiency Rating

Shaquille O'Neal: 28.9

LeBron James: 25.5

Player Efficiency Rating, better known as PER, is a statistic created by John Hollinger that’s goal is to give each NBA player a comprehensive rating. Hollinger’s PER metric is unique because it combines a player’s positive and negative contributions on the court.

Shaquille O'Neal has a PER figure of 28.9, which is off the charts even through 8 years only. Clearly, Shaq impacts winning because his dominance on the court is unquestionably great. Averaging 27.0 PPG, 11.8 RPG, and 2.5 BPG as a member of the Lakers, O’Neal managed to have shooting splits of 57.5% FG and 53.3% FT. That is simply elite on any level considering he was the focal point on offense, and Shaq constantly found ways to make his game shine even brighter in the biggest games. Once again, Shaq was a statistical darling with the Lakers and ultimately has the edge in PER even against an all-time great player in LeBron James.

LeBron James is an iconic player in terms of PER rating because he ranks 2nd all-time over his career. But with the Lakers, James has a very high PER of 25.5, although it is not as high as O’Neal’s. The King was slightly older when he joined the Lakers and is still playing for the franchise as he approaches age 38. An all-around dominant player, LeBron does not have enough time to make up the PER difference over a Shaq that was in his prime with the Purple and Gold. O’Neal was simply too dominant in rebounding, scoring, blocking shots, and shooting a high percentage and ultimately has the edge.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

Final Score

Shaquille O'Neal vs. LeBron James 8-0

In the end, Shaquille O'Neal has a significant career advantage over LeBron James as a Lakers player and that will stay the course since The King is approaching age 38 and is clearly past his prime on a physical level. O’Neal earns the advantages in this career comparison so far because of his incredible dominance during his prime and his gift of being an absolute monster in competing at a superstar level for 8 seasons. That gives the center the advantage of appearing in many more All-NBA Games and also padding his stats across the board. However, it must be mentioned that as a dominant player and generational talent, it is obvious that O’Neal was the single most imposing force in the NBA for at least 4 or 5 years.

At 8-0, this does not seem like a very close career comparison, even if both players are exceptional players with impactful playing styles. But that is what the stats show because it was not close in terms of how dominant O’Neal was with the Lakers in comparison to LeBron. In terms of defending the rim, Shaquille O'Neal was one of the best during his prime because he would intimidate players before they decided to attack the rim. But O’Neal wasn’t just a powerhouse post player, as his elite scoring ability saw him average at least 26 PPG for 7 seasons with the Lakers. There was simply no answer for O’Neal when he competed for the Los Angeles Lakers.

LeBron James did exceptionally well to win the 2020 NBA championship with the Lakers, but that was truly the only iconic achievement The King has had since joining Shaq’s former franchise. The King led the league in assists in 2020, which was impressive, and he made 4 All-Star and 4 All-NBA Teams in 4 years. But no doubt, LeBron has yet to match what the Diesel did for the Lakers, including winning 3 championships and 3 Finals MVP awards to go along with an MVP award. The King accomplished more over his career when taking into account his stints in Cleveland and Miami, but in Lakers lore, James has to accept being far behind in the pecking order. 


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