A few points:
1. Bill Russell would not make first or second team All-NBA today.
2. MJ took over five years to become a truly great player. For a long time he didn’t have much of a jumper. The Shaq was NBA Player of the Week his first week in the league.
3. This last year an old, beat-up Shaq left the Lakers for Miami. The Lakers are now pathetic but the betting market favors Miami to win an NBA title.
4. The first time MJ left Chicago, the remaining Bulls still made the Eastern Finals and were one referee call away from winning them.
5. Phil Jackson should get the credit for much of MJ’s supposed locker room presence in motivating players. It didn’t do the Washington Wizards any good.
6. We underrate big players simply because they appear (and often are) less skilled or less graceful. It is an open question in my mind whether MJ or Kareem (also six rings) is #2 on the list.
7. The wise Matthew Ginivan notes: "You put Shaq on any team, in any game, in any era, against any defender and he DOMINATES."
8. Who was it that said: "I am of the opinion that Shaquille should be the MVP every year."
Here is an excellent book with statistical arguments that Shaq is the greatest NBA player of all time. Here is an analysis of Shaq vs. MJ. And if you want an exercise for your students, ask them why the designation "Greatest Player of All Time" — a multi-dimensional concept — avoids the Arrow Impossibility Theorem.