NBA players, LeBron James in particular, being benched for games has been a topic of debate this season. Much of that is because teams have rested players for premium games on ESPN, which is currently paying billions for NBA rights. It’s worth noting this debate is not new, and what LeBron and other stars are doing is far from egregious.
Shaquille O’Neal sat out an impressively large number of games. The Diesel spent nearly a quarter of his regular season prime in the garage. We looked at the 11 full seasons Shaq was a member of the Lakers or the Heat, excluding the shortened 1998-99 season. Shaq averaged 63.45 games per season, which means he missed 22.7 percent of his teams’ games.
LeBron started 74 games during the 2016-17 season. Shaq managed that feat just twice during his Lakers/Heat career. LeBron is sitting a few games in his thirties, during his 14th NBA season. Shaq was doing this during his mid-20s with fewer miles.
Unlike LeBron’s scheduled absences, Shaq missing games was controversial within the locker room and problematic. It was one of the root causes of the Shaq-Kobe feud which, let us not forget, was extensive enough to have its own lengthy Wikipedia page. We can only imagine what would have happened if the 24-7 First Take/social media climate had existed when Shaq pledged to rehab “on company time.”
Generally, we don’t discuss the games Shaq missed when assessing Shaq’s career (unless we’re wondering how the heck he only won one MVP award). We don’t because he played in the important games, he dominated, and his teams won. That’s also how LeBron’s season will be judged because, again, the regular season does not matter.