One of my all-time favorite Bengals, Willie Anderson, recently spoke one of his role models as a young man. This role model, who inspired him to dress nicely, be open, honest and have a sense of humor with the media, and who made it cool to be a big guy, is none other than retired NBA star Shaquille O'Neal.
"Think of it," Anderson says. "You're 19, 20 years old and you see this 7-foot, 300-pound guy with this great personality and ways getting interviewed. For me, yeah, he was an influence. He made big guys relevant. He made being a big man cool. It was never like that in the '80s. You had to be Michael Jordan. You had to be a guard, or in football a running back or quarterback. But after Shaq cam into the NBA, it was like it was OK to interview Linemen."
While Anderson also mentions that rapper Notorious B.I G. was also an inspiration, it was Shaq who taught Anderson how to dress. Anderson mentions that when he first decided to dress like Shaq, in tailored suits, while making road trips with the team, Joe Walter, Rich Braham and Darrick Brilz, gave him a hard time about it. Now, though, you always see offensive linemen dressed nicely on road trips.
"He ushered in a new era, but it hadn't happened yet," Anderson says with a laugh. "But now you always see linemen dress well in the road. They've got a lot of material to use and now we can look just as good as the skilled guys."
Just as Anderson believes that the NBA held Shaq back by making goals stronger and instituting the zone defense, NFL fans are complaining that the league's rules that protect quarterbacks from defenses, and while Anderson and other NBA fans are watching the era of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, we, as Bengals fans, have to suffer through the era of Andre Smith.
It makes me miss Willie Anderson so much more.