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Shaquille O’Neal vs. Wilt Chamberlain Comparison: Who Is The Most Dominant NBA Player Of All Time?

Shaquille O’Neal vs. Wilt Chamberlain Comparison: Who Is The Most Dominant NBA Player Of All Time?

Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal will forever be linked together since they were both physically dominant superstars that changed the game and altered rulebooks forever. Both players played for the legendary Los Angeles Lakers franchise, with Wilt Chamberlain winning one ring with them while Shaq won three NBA titles in four straight NBA Finals appearances.

When discussing the greatest centers of all time, the same names come up. Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal are always mentioned in the conversation because they were the two most physically dominant basketball players of all time. Wilt Chamberlain owns most of the NBA's unbreakable records while Shaquille O'Neal dominated the court unlike anyone since him.

Shaq and Wilt will forever be compared in a class of their own, but which superstar center had the better overall career? Shaq was a player that relied on brute force and physicality and Wilt was one of the greatest athletes we have ever seen. But is there a separation between them in overall career success? To try to distinguish between the two most dominant centers of all time, it is time to compare the careers of both players by their most important achievements.

NBA Championships

Shaquille O'Neal: 4 (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006)

Finals Record: 4-2

Wilt Chamberlain: 2 (1967, 1972)

Finals Record: 2-4

Whenever the goat debate takes place, NBA championships are often the first thing that comes up. After all, winning is what matters most and the greatest player of all time must be a winner of the highest order. Shaquille O’Neal edges the great Wilt Chamberlain in that regard, winning four championships in six appearances.

Shaq lost his first Finals appearance against Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in 1995 and had to endure defeat to the Detroit Pistons in 2004 as a member of the Lakers. Other than that, O’Neal was a dominant player in the Finals with the Lakers and Heat. 

Wilt Chamberlain was an all-time great regular-season player, but his Finals record is not something to be very proud of at 2-4. He won with the 76ers and Lakers but also lost more times than he probably should have, considering how dominant he was on the court. In terms of rings, the most dominant player with more of them will normally have the edge in all-time rankings.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

Finals MVP Awards

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

Wilt Chamberlain: 1 (1972)

Once again, Shaquille O’Neal has a big advantage when it comes to Finals achievements. The Diesel has three Finals MVPs, earning each of them with the Los Angeles Lakers during their dominant three-peat in the early 2000s. There was simply no answer for Shaq, and of course, the center benefited greatly from the presence of superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Together, they ran riot in the league with teams having almost no chance. Shaq’s averages in the Finals stand at 28.8 PPG, 13.1 RPG, and 3.4 APG through 30 games.

Wilt won the Finals MVP in 1972, posting averages of 19.4 PPG, 23.2 RPG, and 2.6 APG for the Los Angeles Lakers squad that took out the New York Knicks in five games. Wilt could not manage to win Finals MVP in 1967, as the honor was given at the end of the 1969 season (Jerry West). Even if Chamberlain would win that award (and he deserved it), Shaq still has the edge.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

NBA MVP Awards

Shaquille O’Neal: 1 (2000)

Wilt Chamberlain: 4 (1960, 1966, 1967, 1968)

The MVP Award is also another major achievement that comes up in debates about the greatest players of all time. This award shows who the best player is throughout an entire regular season, and in the case of both of these players, it shows how often they were the best player in the league. Somehow, Shaq only has one MVP award. It is widely believed that Shaq was not given the benefit of the doubt for the award because he was simply too strong and big and could’ve won the award every year.

But even if Shaq would have won the extra MVP, many felt he deserved, he would not have been able to catch Wilt Chamberlain. The superstar center was on a tear during the 1960s, and he was by far the most impactful player in the game and on the stat sheet. His first came with the Philadelphia Warriors, and he won three straight with the Philadelphia 76ers. Wilt’s numbers cannot be compared to anyone else, and that is why he won so many MVP awards.

Advantage: Wilt Chamberlain

All-NBA Teams

Shaquille O’Neal: 14 (8 First Team, 2 Second Team, 4 Third Team)

Wilt Chamberlain: 10 (7 First Team, 3 Second Team)

Shaquille O’Neal played at a high level for a very long time, a reason why he has made a whopping 14 All-NBA Teams by the end of his career. There was no doubt that in his prime, Shaq was the most dominant player in his position and made the All-NBA Team almost every year. The fact that he could also squeeze in an All-NBA Third Team selection at age 36 shows just how a player of Shaq’s size and skill could terrorize defenses.

Wilt Chamberlain was an All-NBA stalwart as soon as he started his career, because his numbers and production were something out of a video game and beyond. Chamberlain’s records in scoring, rebounding, and center-specific stats will probably never be broken. But Chamberlain did not play as long as Shaq, and he also lessened production once he got older. Wilt’s 10 All-NBA Team selections are impressive, but O’Neal’s are even more so.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

All-Star Teams

Shaquille O’Neal: 15 All-Star Appearances, 3 All-Star Game MVPs

Wilt Chamberlain: 13 All-Star Appearances, 1 All-Star Game MVP

As soon as Shaquille O’Neal stepped foot on an NBA court, he was already one of the best and most dominant players in the game. The big man made six straight to start his career, and then eight in a row following the 1999 season. He managed to somehow return to All-Star form in 2009 with the Phoenix Suns, posting 17.8 PPG and 8.4 RPG at age 36. O’Neal was also a master at the All-Star Game, capturing the MVP award three times.

Similarly, Wilt Chamberlain was an All-Star in his rookie season and made 10 straight to start his legendary career. Between ages 34-36, Wilt managed to make three more All-Star Teams to take his total to 13. He also captured All-Star Game MVP in 1960 by dropping 23 points and 25 rebounds. A superstar big man with some of the best athleticism we have ever seen, Chamberlain falls short of Shaq in yet another category that might have to do with longevity.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

All-Defensive Teams

Shaquille O’Neal: 3 (3 Second Team)

Wilt Chamberlain: 2 (2 First Team)

Shaquille O’Neal was never known as a lockdown defender, mainly because he was such a dominant offensive force that terrorized defenses for years. Shaq was an abnormally large player, and that often meant he was slow-footed against quicker and technical centers such as Hakeem Olajuwon. O’Neal was capable of blocking shots due to his size (career 2.3 BPG), but he was not always a reliable defender that made three total All-Defensive Teams.

Wilt’s defense often went underappreciated because of the monster offensive statistics he put up. In many ways, what Chamberlain did (or didn’t do) on defense hardly mattered, because he was so incredibly dominant on the stat sheet. Unfortunately for Wilt, All-Defensive Teams started getting tracked in 1969 (when Chamberlain was 32 years old) and that took away from his selections. Chamberlain would have likely had many more than Shaq, but the stats are official as-is.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

Total Win Shares

Shaquille O’Neal: 181.7

Wilt Chamberlain: 247.3

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. Shaq’s career win share total is solid at 181.7, which ranks 13th all-time. In fact, the only centers ahead of him in win shares happen to be Artis Gilmore and Wilt Chamberlain.

Wilt’s career win shares is shockingly high at 247.3, meaning he was more directly responsible for his team wins than Shaq was. Chamberlain ranks third all-time behind LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in this statistic, giving him the first advantage in this comparison. There is no doubt that Wilt’s physical dominance was a major reason his teams won so many games, especially in the regular season.

Advantage: Wilt Chamberlain

Career Player Efficiency Rating (PER)

Shaquille O’Neal: 26.4

Wilt Chamberlain: 26.2

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. The PER category is awfully close, as Shaq has the fifth highest PER rating in NBA history (Michael Jordan is first).

Wilt Chamberlain comes unbelievably close, but he falls to seventh all-time behind “The Admiral” David Robinson. Wilt’s ability to dominate the paint as a whole was normally the reason why his teams were so successful in the regular season. The fact that he once averaged 50.4 PPG in a single season and also managed 27.2 RPG in a single year could be another reason why his positive contributions are so high. But once again, O’Neal takes the edge.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal

Final Score

Shaquille O’Neal vs. Wilt Chamberlain 6-2

In the end, it is hard to argue that Shaquille O’Neal had a better career than Wilt Chamberlain. There is no doubt that both players are the most dominant bigs in NBA history, and they will continue to get compared throughout basketball eternity. But O’Neal had a longer career which spanned five extra seasons and was fortunate to play alongside some of the greatest winners ever in Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, which helped him earn championships. His three straight Finals MVPs will also make it hard for any player to ever come close to what O’Neal did over his career.

Luckily for Wilt Chamberlain, his name is often mentioned among the top-10 ever alongside Shaquille O’Neal, so their legacies will be close. Wilt was more of an individual talent, capable of going off for 50+ points with absolute ease and hauling down rebounds at a ridiculous rate. But Chamberlain does not have the longevity accolades nor the team achievements that O’Neal has, meaning The Diesel had the better all-around career.


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