By Rich Levine
Charlie Sheen wants us all to love violently, and fortunately (as to not upset his fragile genius), the concept isnt too far from the norm for a Boston sports fan.
Maybe Bostons unable to love quite as violently as Sheen, but in terms of what regular, not-so-special humans are capable of, Bostons right up there with the best. When it comes to violently loving professional sports, no one can hold a candle.
And were modest, too.
Bostons a place where failures never tolerated. As an athlete, it doesnt matter if youre too old, too young, injured, out of place or out of shape. If you underperform, you hear it. You get picked on. You become the inspiration for so many sports talk tirades. Of course, if youre successful in Boston, life will never be better. Youll walk around town like the President only your secret service would be two drunk guys in matching Danny Woodhead jerseys. Or like Sheen walking around Sober Valley Ranch only if the goddesses were those same two drunk guys.
But if you come up short around here, it can be brutal. Just ask guys like Eric Gagne, or Dennis Wideman or Adalius Thomas. Youll be ridiculed, tormented, or . . .
Or sometimes . . . just ignored?
So far, thats whats happened with Shaquille ONeal.
Four months into the season, and hes barely been a factor. Hes shown glimpses of what he can do, but still hasnt proven he can do it for an extended period of time. In the meantime, hes amassed an unbelievable collection of injuries and to this point weve chosen to ignore them, or at least resisted labeling them with any sort of significance.
On one hand, you can understand why.
For one, because the injuries are inevitable. However optimistic you wanted to be at the start of this season, it was guaranteed that Shaq was going to miss significant time with this, that or any number of injuries. Why? Well, hes unbelievably old. Not just a little old. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are little old, and proving that old isnt always a negative trait. Shaq was a "little old" in Miami. Now hes the oldest; literally the oldest player in the league.
You dont see many 39-year olds in the NBA. Of those who make it that long, very few start as early as Shaq and almost none can boast that kind of odometer reading. Only 16 guys in NBA history have logged more minutes than ONeal (one of them is KG), and of those 16, none (no, not even you, John Stockton) can match Shaqs sheer size (not just height, but size).
What hes done in terms of longevity is really impressive, but its not without legitimate consequences. And for Shaq, that leaves him with a body that isnt primed for extended NBA battle. But we knew that coming in, so it's not much of a surprise. What are you supposed to say now? Hey, remember how we knew Shaq could get hurt a bunch this regular season? Well . . . it happened! Wanna talk about it?
While the predictability of Shaqs string of injuries is one factor in his undermentioned, underwhelming season, another is the uncertainty of the future.
Basically, the fact that if Shaq can somehow get it together in time for the playoffs and help the Celtics win just 16 more games, then none of these injuries matter. Nothing will matter except for the fact that Shaq came to Boston and somehow did enough to help bring them a title. At that point, the hip, the knee, the calf, the Achilles, the foot and everything else that pops up between now and then will mean nothing. All the time we spent almost talking about them will mean less.
No matter how frustrated you want to get with Shaq for these injuries, you cant help but feel like until the playoffs start, its useless to even care. That's why they brought him here. That when we can judge him (and every other personnel move from the past year). At that point, if he comes through, well look back at early March and think, Ha! Remember all the whining we did when Shaq decided to hibernate for the winter? Well look back and laugh at everything from the last few months. That was just Shaq being Shaq! Goofing around and missing games; showing up more on TV and Twitter than he does on the court. This was his plan all along! He knew hed be fine. They knew hed be fine."
But who knows?
Yesterday afternoon, after A. Sherrod Blakely broke the news that Shaq is, once again, out indefinitely, I wasnt sure how to react. It was only natural to get frustrated, maybe a little concerned. Especially with Kendrick Perkins and Semih Erden playing elsewhere, with Jermaine ONeal no guarantee to be back, and with Troy Murphy still shooting a cool .000 for his Celtics career. The playoffs are six weeks away and the Celtics are still looking to get the right bodies on the court and finally start shaping themselves for the playoffs. And Shaq needs be a part of that.
But for now, he's not and he won't be. And amazingly, Boston still doesn't seem panicked. For some reason with Shaq, they're able to put aside that violent love for their team that's resulted in so many underachieving and injury-prone players turning into public enemies, and hold out hope.
In that sense, maybe Shaq's off-the-court persona helps him. Maybe the fact that he means so much, and undoubtedly gives so much of his time to the community, and is one of the more lovable and jovial personalities in sports makes him a guy that fans want to root for. It makes it very difficult for a lot of fans to even stay mad at him. And maybe that works. Hes such a unique guy. Theres never been an athlete who's taken over Boston like Shaq in such a short amount of time. And there probably never will be. So maybe its fitting that hes been given this treatment. For all he's done, maybe he deserves it.
But if it were any other players, under any other circumstances, that violent love would have started to boil. And Charlie Sheen's the only one who'd be gaining any kind of satisfaction.