LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Retired four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal says the league would be smart to call off the halted 2019-20 campaign and avoid crowning a champion that would carry an “asterisk”.
O’Neal, in an interview with USA Today, said players should start to prepare for a 2020-21 season and set aside a campaign halted in March by the coronavirus pandemic with five weeks of regular-season games and two months of playoffs remaining.
“I think we should scrap the season. Everybody go home, get healthy, come back next year. Just scrap the season. Just scrap it,” O’Neal told the newspaper.
“To try and come back now and do a rush play-offs as a player? Any team that win this year, there’s an asterisk. They’re not going to get the respect.
“What if a team that’s not really in the mix of things all of a sudden wins with a new play-off format? Nobody is going to respect that. So, scrap it. Worry about the safety of the fans and the people. Come back next year.”
Dominating centre O’Neal combined with the late Kobe Bryant and sparked the Los Angeles Lakers to NBA crowns from 2000 through 2002, being named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player each time, then powered the Miami Heat to the 2006 title.
O’Neal, 48, retired in 2011 after a 19-season NBA career and has been working as a television analyst.
Current Lakers star LeBron James, who had LA atop the Western Conference when the season went on hiatus, has said no one should be talking about cancelling the season.
The league has been working on plans to gather teams in a single city, test and house players in a secured area and stage games without fans in a controlled area, with Las Vegas and Orlando most often mentioned as possible sites for the “bubble” plan.
“I understand how players are feeling. I really do,” O’Neal told the newspaper. “But any team that gets it done this year, there’s going to be an asterisk on that championship.”
O’Neal doesn’t want to see any resumption unless all involved – players, coaches, referees and the broadcast personnel – are safe from the deadly virus.
“However long it takes for us to get 100 per cent back to normal, I’m willing to wait,” O’Neal said.
“All it takes is one person. After the game, you’ve still got to go home. What if one person gets sick? Then we start from zero again.”
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