These are confused and confusing times in the NBA. Actual reporters and the amateur LeBron Symbologists on Twitter are chasing ghosts and parsing Twitpics; these are stupid, trolling ghosts, and the Twitpics are blurry. The entire league seems stuck in a strange and uncertain suspension, and not just because it does not know where its best player will be playing his basketball next season. There is, everywhere, a sense of old understandings being undone and various perceived permanences suddenly worn into transparent thinness. And that's just the Philadelphia 76ers.
In these strange and uncentered times, as always but maybe more than ever, it is natural to seek a center. It is natural to turn to the old authorities and ask, what now? This was what happened, quite literally, when Shaquille O'Neal sat on a panel at the Reebok Classic Breakout, in Philadelphia. There, Shaq was asked his thoughts on the 76ers semi-sadistic rebuilding process. There, Shaq stilled the unquiet minds of NBA fans with the brave and sheltering wisdom that has become his trademark.
"They're on the right track, but they are two big pieces away or three to four nice pieces away." ... [O'Neal] said that not every NBA team is immediately successful and that it takes time to build a winning franchise. "Build through the draft, free agency, trades, making moves. You have to be really aggressive or semi-aggressive, or just wait," O'Neal said.
"Every team has situations," Shaq did not continue. "Good situations, bad situations, situations that are kind of neutral. And the key to success or failure is how you deal with those situations, or don't. If you're a GM, you're going to want to do the sort of things that GMs do, without breaking any actual specific laws. Or not do those things, if that's a better idea. You need to look for players where the basketball players are -- other teams, other leagues, the different basketball games you might see on TV or in real life.
"You don't need to waste your time looking for basketball players at Sam's Club, okay. [Laughter] Although maybe there are players there. I don't know, it couldn't hurt to look, they have a lot of good deals. But you need players for a basketball team, okay? You literally need to have a certain number of players on the team, that's the NBA's rules, so you want to try to get the good players on your team, as many of them as you can and instead of less good players. Get all the good players you can, and guess what? You have a winning team right there, mister. And if you win enough games you can be in the playoffs or even the finals. Or the Olympics. You could even win a Country Music Award!"
Shaq was joined on the panel by Dominique Wilkins, Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas and also Jadakiss and DJ Drama and a comedian named Lil Duval, which is incomprehensible and amazing and not nearly the best thing about this.
No, the best thing about this is knowing. Here, finally, is the sense of putting in at a safe harbor as a storm gathers. We do not know what will change in the NBA, or what kind of place we will find ourselves in when that upheaval ends. But we know this much: if a GM does the things that Shaquille O'Neal says, or does not do those things, that GM can build a winning team. The important thing is to do various things, or not do them. Whatever comes in the wild days and weeks ahead, let us hold onto that truth, together. There is safety, here.