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Monday, May 30, 2005

The triple towers through the years

Three big men who all attended major colleges at the same time and became lifetime rivals are now united in a quest. As the three end long successful careers, they are together trying to win a championship for the Miami Heat. From the historic perspective it is amazing to see Shaquile O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning (Zo) and Christian Laettner on the same roster at the same time.

Truly, they were three of the greatest players to play the College game in years. In the early 1990s, when Shaq was at LSU, the Tigers were the toast of the state. The two biggest games in the Shaq years were moved from the Baton Rouge campus to the 70,000 seat Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. The two games were against Alonzo Mourning's Georgetown Hoyas, and Christian Laettner's Duke Blue Devils. The rivalry remained intense. In the 1993 draft, Shaq, Zo, and Laettner went 1-2-3. Shaq was thought to be the best center since Wilt chamberlain to enter the draft. Zo could be the best defensive center ever, and Laettner? He had won two National Championships at Duke and was the only College player to play on the Dream Team with Jordan, Bird and Magic. All three had immediate impacts with the teams that drafted them- Orlando, Charlotte, and Minnesota respectively. The three teams had been mid 80s expansion cousins of the already successful Miami Heat who had made the playoffs the previous season and did not have a high draft pick. It is ironic that all three would end up with Miami of all teams: the team of the expansion bunch that did ascended quickly through player personnel moves and the team that seemed to miss out on the best draft of all because of its success. Within three years, all three of the aforementioned teams had a better record than the Heat, thanks in large part to the good fortune of being bad at the right time.

In 1995, Pat Riley made a move that would forever change the Miami Heat franchise. He traded super scorer Glen Rice and two other players to Charlotte for Alonzo Mourning. Zo quickly helped turn the Heat around and with Tim Hardaway, the Heat finished the regular season among the top 3 teams in East for five straight seasons. Along the way, an intense rivalry with Shaq developed. At one point Shaq challenged Zo to a fight, and Mourning responded by saying Shaq did not play hard and had no real Basketball skills. When Shaq left Orlando for Los Angeles, the two would not face each other very often and the Heat's intense rivalry with New York (ranked by Sports Illustrated as the top rivalry of the 90s in any sport) made any Shaq-Zo feud pale in comparison.

In Los Angeles while Shaq was dominating his opponents, en route to 3 championships. Zo's Heat would routently get upset by lower seeded teams in the playoffs. Then came Zo's kidney ailments which derailed the Heat and helped send Pat Riley upstairs to the front office. Christian Laettner was having troubles of his own. Laettner who has played for 4 teams the past 4 seasons and has run afoul the NBA's substance abuse policy is making an impact as a role player for the Heat who is an exceptionally good passer and perimeter player for a big man.

All three onetime rivals are great teamates according to the others. " I was a hypocrite" recently said Shaq of his view of Zo. "He's an amazing person," continued Shaq. Zo for his part has said that Shaq is the "greatest big man on the planet," and "the reason I came back to Miami."

The chemistry between the big men in Miami is truly something sentimental and special.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Laettner has been a key element off the bench for Miami. He adds size and savvy to a fairly young team aside from Shaq and Zo. By the way, what has happened to Michael Doleac?

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I am the host of the Major League Soccer Talk and EPL Talk Podcasts and am frequent guest on other (world) football shows. I am also the publisher of various other websites including this one. I work in public/government relations in addition to my soccer work and have a keen interest in history, politics, aviation, travel,and the world around us.