When Shaq challenges you to a race on the Charles, there’s only one way to respond: “Game on.”
The basketball star expressed his intentions to race against Harvard’s top rowers in a four with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce.
My first thought was “Really, Shaq? Are you sure you don’t want a coxswain?” The Charles is pretty tricky. Perhaps Shaq should recruit a coxswain who knows the river. But knowing O’Neal, he’ll probably just throw Rajon Rondo or Nate Robinson in the bow and hope for the best. (Good luck on the Weeks turn.)
A race between the Celtics and the Crimson has the potential to be one of the most fantastically entertaining events this river has ever seen.
Who could resist a showdown between the city’s two most successful teams?
Boston has 17 NBA Championships. Harvard has 16 national championships (including eight that are considered “unofficial”). And both institutions brag about the legacies of their legendary coaches, Red Auerbach and Harry Parker, each arguably the greatest of all time in his respective sport.
Within the past month, both teams have shown that they’ve still got it. The Crimson heavyweights took second at the 46th Head of the Charles despite clashing oars with another boat, and the Celtics knocked off the much-hyped Heat, 88-80, in their first game of the season.
Since both teams have made a habit of excellence, it’s not surprising that it was the Big Aristotle who proposed their meeting.
Of course, the appeal of this race has little to do with the historical legacies of the two franchises. Just think of all the intrigue that would surround a competition such as this.
Would Shaq fit into the boat? What seat would he row? Would any of them be good? (Personally, I think Garnett, Allen, and Rondo have potential.) Could the Celtics manage to stay afloat or would they finish the race (or the warm-up) with a Charles River baptism?
Only Shaq seems to think he has a chance at winning.
Or does he?
His show, “Shaq Vs,” has demonstrated, unambiguously, that basketball skills do not translate into dominance in other sports. If he didn’t know already, he’s probably figured out that he can’t actually beat any athlete in any given sport. And yet no matter how many times he loses, Shaq’s always ready to give it another shot.
There’s something endearing about an athlete choosing to try his hand at an unfamiliar sport while knowing that he will most likely humiliate himself. By repeatedly subjecting himself to such embarrassment, Shaq has demonstrated the kind of humility you would never see from, say, Kobe Bryant.
As his skills have declined, Shaq has morphed from a dominating low-post threat into a team-first role player and chemistry booster. No longer able to carry teams on his back, he has taken instead to lightening the mood in the locker room.
Shaq has managed to stay relevant in an industry where athletes his age—38 years old—are rare, in part because he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
And I can’t remember the last time a top athlete in one of the “big four” professional sports leagues has so thoroughly embraced Harvard Square and our University. By visiting the Square on move-in day and posing as a statue, Shaq has opened his arms to the community. We should welcome him in turn.
There are many logistical reasons hindering a potential showdown between the Celtics and the Crimson: both teams have very busy schedules, the Charles is frozen for around three months a year, and Shaq would have to find a boat that he could actually fit in. But this kind of event would bring nothing but joy to all involved. We already know Shaq would have fun, but the rowing community probably has more reasons for wanting the race to happen. For a sport ignored by the masses, a competition against a top NBA squad would do wonders for the sport’s visibility.
And for the athletes, it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even the Harvard rowers who are bound for the Olympics will likely never have another opportunity to compete against such a well-known superstar. If this race happens—and hopefully it will—whichever rowers are lucky enough to be in the four should appreciate the transcendent personality of the center who made it all possible. And then they should proceed to win with open water.
—Staff writer Chistina C. McClintock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.