LeBron James, Kevin Durant push back on 'old heads' like Shaq blasting young players

A supremely awkward interview between Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal has resulted in plenty of criticism directed toward the latter, and now two of the game’s top active players are weighing in.

A day after the “Inside the NBA” interview — in which O’Neal bluntly told Mitchell he doesn’t have what it takes to reach the next level — both LeBron James and Kevin Durant commented on an Instagram post questioning why young players are so “sensitive” when receiving “constructive criticism” from basketball legends.

Both players took issue with that characterization.

James said there was a difference between constructive criticism and plain hating:

There’s a difference between constructive criticism and soft hating though. I’ve seen it both ways come my way, mostly the hate. You can hear it in their delivery.

Durant suggested older players should leave the coaching to, well, coaches:

Them old heads need to go enjoy retirement. These boys have coaches they work with everyday lol.

Plenty more players have weighed in on the O’Neal interview, including Mitchell’s teammate Mike Conley:

Shaquille O’Neal’s interview was bizarre

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 11: Shaquille O'Neal pictured during a special live NBA On TNT Telecast at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 11, 2018. Credit: Damairs Carter/MediaPunch/IPX
Shaquille O'Neal's interview with Donovan Mitchell went viral in all the wrong ways. (Damairs Carter/MediaPunch/IPX)

The interview in question occurred after Mitchell posted 36 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a Jazz win, a curious time to tell a player he doesn’t have much of a future.

Here it is, in all its awkward glory:

To his credit, Mitchell gave the broadside the reaction it deserved, shrugging off O’Neal’s comments and telling him they’re nothing new. A partial transcript:

O’Neal: “I said tonight that you are one of my favorite players, but you don’t have what it takes to get to the next level,” O’Neal said. “I said it on purpose because I wanted you to hear it. What do you have to say about that?”

Mitchell: “Aight ... That’s it.”

O’Neal: “That’s it?”

Mitchell: “That’s it.”

O’Neal: “OK, cool. I wanted you to hear it.”

Mitchell: “Shaq, I’ve been hearing that since my rookie year. I’m just going to get better and do what I do.”

Hating on active NBA players has been something of a recurring segment on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” especially since O’Neal joined the crew in 2012. Obviously, it’s part of a studio analyst’s job to criticize players, but O’Neal and Charles Barkley have often taken the role to hyperbolic extremes, like calling for LeBron James to be punched in the groin, feuding with Draymond Green, struggling to pronounce the names of a league MVP and straight up saying the league has never been worse.

The whole dynamic clearly does well in the ratings department, on social media and at awards shows. It makes for good television. However, it also results in moments like Wednesday’s, and you can’t blame some players from rolling their eyes when it happens.

The charitable interpretation of O’Neal’s comments is that he was trying to provide Mitchell motivation to get better, but Mitchell is a 6-foot-1 shooting guard who had to replace an outgoing star in his rookie year and became an All-Star. He has never lacked for motivation. And even if Mitchell was lacking, you would hope he has better sources for inspiration than television hosts he barely knows. As Durant said, he has coaches for that.

None of this is to say superstars of the past have nothing to offer to today’s players. Mentorship is very much a real thing — Kobe Bryant and Hakeem Olajuwon being notable examples — but it’s not something done on camera with no insight beyond “you don’t have what it takes.” Because that’s just going to be seen as an attempt at making good television, rather than real help.

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