Vaunted Shaq Adversary Andrew Bynum Considers Return To Basketball



Beer-drinking Sisqo fan Andrew Bynum hasn’t played professional basketball in more than four years. Ordinarily, such a layoff would disqualify him from serious consideration for a roster spot in the NBA, but the youngest player ever drafted is still just 30 years old. And though his style of play — lumbering, back-to-the-basket post-ups followed up two heavy dribbles and a baby hook — may as well play out on black-and-white film compared to the 4K Ultra HD of today’s game, Bynum is still seven feet tall and can jog up and down the court at least a few times in a row. Someone (probably the Warriors) will pay him money to grab a couple rebounds.

This news, while utterly inconsequential, gives us an excuse to revisit one of the great moments in recent NBA history: Bynum’s minute-long rivalry with his Lakers predecessor, Shaquille O’Neal (the IcyHot guy).

In 2006, halfway into the 18-year-old Bynum’s rookie year, a still-effective Shaq rumbled into Los Angeles with his Miami Heat teammates. With 1:10 left in the first half, Jason Williams — a Heat — dribbled to his right, using Udonis Haslem screen to free up space for a mid-range jump shot just beyond the right elbow. (A “mid-range” jumper was when old-timey players used to attempt shots inside the three-point arc but outside the painted area.) As White Chocolate’s shot bounced off the rim and onto the backboard, Shaq gently shoved Bynum further underneath the basket in hopes of grabbing the rebound. The young Bynum had been outfoxed — he was deep in no-big-man’s land, and the Diesel was sitting on the manhole cover.

Shaq did grab the rebound, but instead of returning to the ground, he chose to thunderously slam the ball through the hoop. Bynum, a weak and uncoordinated newborn fawn in the shadow of a Clydesdale, crumbled to the floor, his family name sullied for a generation.

A less prideful man such as myself would have faked an injury in that moment, grimacing on the floorboards as trainers tended to phantom swelling. Chalk it up to a freak accident. Gah, get ‘em next time, I’d say, shaking my fist as I’m wheeled out of the playing area.

But Bynum refused to be buried by his idol. (Note: There is no evidence Bynum looked up to Shaq as a child or teen. But he was very tall and played basketball so it fits this narrative nicely.) Determined to exact revenge, Bynum bounded down the floor, posted up a presumably exhausted O’Neal, and received a pass from the father of Shaq Envy, Kobe Bryant.

To the shock of everyone alive on that day and all who have been born since, Bynum faked a spin inside, pivoted toward the baseline, and left O’Neal lunging for a ghost. The wide-open dunk was somehow as emasculating for Shaq as the floor burns were for Bynum moments prior.

Bynum, young and excitable, returned to the Heat end of the floor a new man, energized by his baptism. Sensing he’d ripped the Big Man torch from Shaq’s grasp, Bynum gently thrusted his right arm in Shaq’s direction, intended as a sign of respect as much as it was an announcement of his arrival in the league. Shaq was unamused.

No two consecutive first-half January NBA possessions have ever been so exhilarating. As “traditional” post players disappear and the sport moves away from plodding battles on the block, it’s unlikely we’ll see another physical back-and-forth like this in our lifetimes.

The dunk was Bynum’s only basket of the game. He played three and a half minutes. Unless he delivers a forearm shiver to the ribs of a gloating Mo Bamba, his comeback will be meaningless. |ES|