Shaquille O’Neal says Warriors’ Stephen Curry is ‘by far’ the best player in the world: ‘I love that kid’

Four-time NBA champion. Eight-time All-NBA. Two-time scoring champion. Two-time NBA MVP, including the only unanimous selection in league history. All-time leader in 3-pointers made. For any other player, that resume alone would deserve significant consideration as the greatest person to ever play basketball.

But for whatever reason, fans, analysts — and particularly former players — have consistently failed to include the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry alongside usual GOAT contenders Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.

Whether it’s because of his angelic face, the fact that most of his points come from a throw that didn’t exist in the NBA until 1979, or simply the startling reality that he plays differently than any other athlete before him, Curry has become traditional seen as an anomaly – a freak with a God-given, superhuman pension for tossing a ball into a hoop, whose immense success is solely the result of rule changes curtailing the brute physicality that would have relegated him to mediocre status in any previous era.

Curry largely silenced those critics with his stunning performance in the 2022 NBA Finals, which earned him his first Finals MVP trophy – one of the few unmatched honors he has yet to receive. Since June, critics have been far more willing to place Curry in the pantheon of NBA greats, having made it impossible for them not to.

One example is that Hall of Famer and current TV analyst Shaquille O’Neal recently lavished praise on Curry that seems all too unusual. On the latest episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” (h/t NBC Sports Bay Area), the former center – completely unprovoked – dubbed Curry “the best player in the world.”

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O’Neal was talking about the upcoming NBA season with his “Inside the NBA” co-star Kenny Smith and his podcast co-hosts Nischelle Turner and Spice Adams when the subject of the Western Conference came up. Smith argued that the West could be as powerful as ever, and O’Neal countered by saying the Warriors should be the all-time favorites.

“Nobody’s going to beat the best player in the world, Steph Curry,” O’Neal said.

Pressed for his testimony, O’Neal didn’t hesitate to double down, saying, “Yes, by a long shot. Hell yeah.” He then listed his reasons for categorizing Curry at the top of the list of current NBA superstars.

“The real ones are recognized by the championships you have,” O’Neal said. “No one plays better than Steph Curry. He’s a tough shot taker, a tough shot maker. I like where he’s taken his career. I love Rocky-type stories. …Steph wasn’t highly recruited so working hard and being the best shooter and one of the best players in the league, he gets my props for that. I love this boy.

Smith supported O’Neal’s statements by highlighting Curry’s selflessness, eventually agreeing that “last year he was the best player in the world”.

Even with Curry’s incredible 2021-22 season, there are many basketball analysts who would still place players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Nikola Jokic above him on their lists of the NBA’s top players. So for O’Neal, who once said that in a hypothetical duel between his Lakers and Curry’s Warriors, he “would have put his little A-out a few times” to etch Curry to the top of the NBA superstar hierarchy, proof for how Curry’s size helped change his perceptions late in his career.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr and many others have noted that Curry is in the best shape of his life at the age of 34, so the successes are likely to continue to pile up in the coming seasons. When all is said and done, today we could be talking about Curry not only as the best player in the league, but perhaps the best to ever pick up a basketball.

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