But it's in L.A. where the pendulum really swings. Where a mother of two, inside a small house down the street from the old Forum, speaks for millions.

Ms. Rodgers will tell you a story about a Steve Harvey and John Salley conversation that took place on 100.3 FM The Beat over a month ago. She'll tell you how Steve and John got into an argument on the air about the whole Shaq/Kobe deal. She'll tell you how Steve sided with Diesel while John said Shaquille needs to let the whole thing die. Saying to Steve, "You're talking about Kobe, but Shaq's the one running around here not letting it go. He's the one saying the Lakers did him wrong. Kobe isn't saying anything. He's in Europe, vacationing with his wife."

She'll tell you how on the next day, Shaq himself called in to the radio station and said, "[Salley] rode our backs to get his rings."

She'll tell you how Shaq then called Salley a sellout, an Uncle Tom.

Then she'll pop in a cassette. She'll speak no longer. The next voice you hear belongs to John Salley.

"A sellout? If I see Shaq, I'm punching him in the face. I mean, I love the brotha and he's [my] frat, but … "

Shaquille O'Neal & Dwyane Wade
But even on the bench, Shaq has continued to help counsel Dwyane Wade.

For over 10 minutes, Salley, who considered Shaq a friend, who played with him, who won a ring with him, publicly severed his relationship with one of the most "untouchable" athletes in sports.

And he didn't seem to care.

What does any of this have to do with the Heat's situation? What does it have to do with Shaq's impact on the game, on his influence on whether the Heat get to the Finals?

Nothing.

But it is an extended look at his life and the complications that surround him because of what he does and who he has become.

To some people, he is Reason No. 1 the Lakers turned out the way they did this year – by "not showing the same type of commitment the last two years the way he did this year." To others, he saved basketball by going East and is showing everybody that he is the "best" basketball player in the world, bar none. After all, he's taking a team that was average last year to the promised land this year.

It's all interweaved through his life. It's all become his life.

And just when you think you have everything figured out about Shaq, just when you've drawn your conclusion that there might be some validity to calling him overrated … he does what he did last night, both during and after the game (when he publicly insisted that he pay for George Mikan's funeral because he heard the family was having financial problems due to the medical bills incurred during George's illness). And instantly, you feel ashamed of yourself. And you start to understand that this guy is bigger than basketball, and for us to judge him on that alone – good or bad – might be justified, but is simply unfair.

*****

The blood in his leg fills up after every game. Often, it has to be drained. Lots of it. It's been his routine since the last week of the regular season, when Jermaine O'Neal turned to try to score and his knee – at full speed – found the inside of Shaq's thigh. Ask any doctor and they'll tell you it takes eight weeks for an injury like that to heal, four weeks before you should even walk on it. And that's if it's a regular bruise. Jermaine is 7 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds. Shaq is bigger than that. The bigger the bang, the bigger the bruise.

Continued...


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