Shaq's Low Point
I realize this post comes a few days after the fact, which risks making it feel like old news. I purposely waited to post it, though, because I wanted to wait and see if any reports surfaced that would change my opinion of things. Any explanation as to circumstances, motivations, worthwhile prior engagements, etc., that somehow made the situation more palatable. Didn’t happen. Thus I’m laying it all out. 72 hours “late,” more or less, but better late than never, in my mind.
Let me start things out by saying, I’m not an Kobe apologist. Nor am I a Shaq “hater” (as previously stated, I find the “hate” concept perplexing in and of itself). When it comes to choosing “sides” over their epic tiff, I choose “both.” It’s no cop out. I’d simply be missing the boat if I let either off the hook. At various points during their soap opera while (sort of) co-existing as teammates, they both richly deserved each other's scorn. They had eight years, the same amount of time it took me to finish high school and college, to make a relationship that was actually working simply palatable… and couldn’t. Sorry, but that’s beyond ridiculous. By the end of their time together, it didn’t matter if I was thinking as a Lakers fan, a basketball fan, an NBA fan, a sports fan or just a fan sick of watching dudes like Horry, Fox, Fish, Shaw, Harp or George do the dirty work so these two could fight over the glory; Part of me hoped that Kupchak would not only trade Shaq, but let Kobe walk and use the cap room to start fresh. The two of them provided some of the best basketball memories I’ll ever have, but by the end of the 2004 Finals, I was pretty effin’ sick of both guys.
My point? I have no “allegiance” to either Shaq or Kobe. Neither earned it.
Having spouted all that, I felt myself edging ever so slightly towards Kobe’s side as I sat in Staples last Sunday during the Bobcats game and watched Shaq waltz in halfway through the second quarter, drink in a standing ovation to the Superman theme, then jet out during halftime. Seriously, what the hell was he doing there? I know he was in town for a game on Monday. But seriously… what the hell was he doing there?
The fact that he didn’t stick around for the entire game struck me as quite fishy. If he had sat through the entire game, then walked to the bench, and caught up with Phil, B. Shaw, George, Luke, etc., I might have shrugged it off. I still would have found it more than a little odd, given how dead set he seems on trashing the Lakers at every possible opportunity (even labeling L.A. “fake,” which is a joke, considering L.A. actually is as superficial as advertised and Miami may be the only place on the planet that makes it look deep.). Were I Shaq, I’d find it awkward just stepping inside Staples, even just to play the Clippers. I don’t know how easily I’d sit through a Kings game, frankly. But Shaq may feel like, “You know what? I busted my butt to bring this team three titles and if they have a problem with me sitting here watching a game, screw ‘em!” And I might buy it. That rationale just might hold water… had Shaq stuck around for the entire game. Once he was nowhere to be found at the beginning of that third quarter, all bets were off.
Please note: Like I said, I waited a couple days to see if Shaq actually had a good reason for his flyby move. Like he gave his seats to a couple in the nose bleed section… so he could visit a children’s hospital… and read to them… while donating a kidney… that he removed himself using only one hand… since the other hand was busy ladling soup to the homeless (That the homeless are hanging at the hospital when they should be at a shelter did sound odd at first, but Shaq arranged this entire bit of do-goodism on a cell phone that could only get reception from his courtside seat at the Staples Center on that particular night. Weird, but true).
Obviously, that entire series of events need not have taken place for Shaq to justify himself. But the point is, he needed a pretty good reason for making this a cameo. Otherwise, he comes off like a guy who can’t let a feud go and will take any opportunity to remind his old nemesis via the applause meter that his old city still loves him, maybe even more so than said nemesis. I can’t think of any other explanation. Why else would you make sure to show up with the game well under way, guaranteeing a big ol’ stir? Why else wouldn’t you hang around for the second half, unless you want people to notice you left and talk about it?
All I can say is that the big Fella better never say another bad thing about the Lakers ever again. I think he had a legit gripe about how he was treated on his way out, even though I think Buss made the right choice in Kobe over Shaq (he simply bricked the execution). And if spouting off about it 24/7, even now, somehow makes Shaq feel better about it, who am I to stand in the way of therapy? But he can't have it both ways. It's beyond hypocritical to use the organization as a whipping boy 364 days of the year, then turn around on the 365th and ask them to provide a major ego stroke. Sorry. Not having it. I imagine this whole ordeal put the Lakers in a very awkward position. If they don’t acknowledge Shaq’s presence, they come off unappreciative of his time here. And by acknowledging it, the ensuing applause risks making them look like bigger jackasses for trading The Diesel, especially during a struggle against the Bobcats. In the end, I think the Lakers made the classier choice. Which is more than I can say about O'Neal.
Don’t get me wrong. I still think Shaq is a great guy, all in all. He does ridiculous amounts of charity work and I’ve witnessed his interaction with kids firsthand. It's genuine. He also may very well be a better teammate than Kobe. That many stories about everyone and their mother having trouble with #8 can’t all be the result of one big mass media conspiracy. Like I said in the beginning, this wasn’t written as a rallying cry for Kobe. He’s dug his hole with Lakers fans and the press. It’s his own job to climb out of it. But there’s definitely a side of Shaq that’s incredibly thin skinned and continues to take this feud very personally, whereas Kobe appears more than over it. Granted, Kobe has bigger things to worry about at the moment than a relationship long since dead. But outside of a few occasions, like when he and the Big Fella began the 2003-2004 season by trading insults, this entire mess never seemed as personal to Kobe in the first place.
And I’ll say this much about Bryant. He’ll always be accused of hogging the rock on the court, but he’ll never be accused of hogging the spotlight off it. You’ll never catch him just popping by a Heat game during a night off (Yes, I realize it’s a bad example, since he’d just get booed, but you know what I mean). That’s bush league stuff, and too blatantly and unnecessarily attention grabbing for what strikes me as Kobe’s taste. For lack of a better phrase, he’s above it.
Again, Shaq may very well be a better teammate than Kobe. But the jury is still out as to whether he’s the more mature one.
(photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/AP)