Charting Kobe-Shaq I
LOS ANGELES -- Jack Nicholson actually went skiing this Christmas, instead of filling his familiar courtside seat at Staples Center. Maybe Jack couldn't handle choosing between Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Or maybe Jack just knew he could click to ESPN.com for a minute-by-minute clock watch from the NBA's answer to Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier.
Shaq and Kobe can't both claim to be heavyweights, but it's a safe bet that the mutual chill they share is going to last well beyond this holiday season. You didn't have to be at Staples to sense that it's going to take years, as it did for Ali and Frazier, for O'Neal and Bryant to forge any sort of truce.
"I don't have a hatchet," O'Neal insisted after Miami overcame his early exit to claim a 104-102 overtime triumph in Shaq-Kobe I.
"I think you guys keep it going more than me and him do. I'm over it. I've moved on."
No he hasn't.
Shaq seems far less over it than his ex-sidekick -- but Kobe hasn't, either. And don't believe anyone who says otherwise. Their first duel meant more to both than either would admit, according to the closest thing to a neutral party.
"Oh, yeah," said Miami's Eddie Jones, Shaq's teammate and Bryant's longtime Philly pal. "C'mon."
In case you missed the bout like Jack, or even if you did watch it, follow along here. Because lots happened -- the consensus being that the day somehow did live up to the advance billing -- and not all of it was televised.
9:10 a.m. PT The overhead lights switch on, but the only Lakers practicing early on this holiday morning are the Laker Girls (no staring allowed). Kobe has been known to hit the floor hours before a game, a solid hour or two before anyone else warms up, but he's behind closed doors for this one.
10:42 a.m. Heat guard Damon Jones is asked to describe how much easier the game is for him now, roaming the perimeter with O'Neal drawing so much attention down low. Does it really make a difference, D-Jones? "Can I curse?" he says. "Bleep yeah." Jones, whose move to point guard has coincided with the Heat's 10-game win streak, then colorfully runs through a series of Heat play calls, all of them including a "5." Five, of course, translates to Shaq. "That's all I call," Jones says. "The game is so easy now. [Shaq] puts no pressure on me. He just tells me: 'If you're open, shoot it.' And if you're not open, pass it back to me.' "
10:53 a.m. A back door in the Heat's locker room cracks open and a glimpse of Shaq appears. He's doing deep knee-bends to loosen up. He doesn't look too friendly.
10:57 a.m. There's a knock on the door, because Shaq wants out now. He passes a small cluster of reporters he knows well to duck into more privacy, greeting them with a steely stare as he passes. Turns out he's not in a chatty mood, either.
11:03 a.m. Wade is asked about Shaq dubbing himself a Brick Wall and Bryant a Corvette. "That's just the kind of quoter he is," Wade says.
11:58 a.m. Miami players hit the floor and Shaq is actually looking to hug someone. No, fool -- not Kobe. It's Lakers superfan Norm Pattiz, who for this special occasion has tweaked the lining of the navy blazer he's wearing. On one side of the lining is the remnants of Shaq No. 34 Lakers jersey, and the other side features Kobe's No. 8. Shaq hugs him anyway.
Noon. Until now, the folks inside Staples had been rather subdued, no doubt because it's an early tipoff time on a holiday morning (and because they're almost always subdued). Yet it all changes once Shaq and Kobe are on the floor. Suddenly everyone's standing and buzzing.
12:09 p.m. Referee Monte McCutchen approaches Shaq to ask if O'Neal wants to join the usual pregame captains' meeting at center court. Shaq (surprise) declines and lets Eddie Jones (Miami's official captain) greet the Lakers' Lamar Odom and his Philly pal Bryant.
12:11 p.m. Shaq finally consents to a handshake with Sylvester Stallone. He also swishes a 3-pointer during pre-game warm-ups. Seriously.
12:16 p.m. Barely one verse into the national anthem, an upper-deck fan blurts out, "We love you, Shaq."
12:17 p.m. A specially prepared Shaq montage rolls out on the scoreboard overhead with a message spliced into the highlights of O'Neal's eight seasons here.
You Made A Difference
An Organization And A City Is Forever Grateful
The montage also includes taped thank-yous from Magic Johnson, those Laker Girls (still no staring), Sugar Ray Leonard, Denzel Washington, Penny Marshall and Andy Garcia.
Kobe? He is spotted watching the whole thing and, yes, clapping afterward.
12:20 p.m. Shaq is the first Heat player introduced and gets a raucous ovation. He nods to his wife, who's sitting with family and friends across from the Miami bench, and then raises his right arm to salute the audience. Eddie Jones, another ex-Laker, is introduced next, meaning Udonis Haslem is the afternoon's first player to get booed. ("I think it was 89.2 percent cheers," O'Neal said later, "and 11.8 percent boos." Folks were laughing too hard to tell him that adds up to 101 percent.)
12:22 p.m. Kobe is introduced last among the Lakers and then, to his credit, takes the initiative and seeks Shaq out immediately before the opening tip. With Shaq only half-facing him, Kobe grabs Shaq's hand and pats his left hip. Shaq, in return, refuses to make eye contact with Kobe and pats him on the back like a guy who's trying to hurry through an uncomfortable hug as fast as he can. (Told later that he seemed reluctant to engage in any interplay with his ex-teammate, Shaq quipped: "Being married, I don't want any interplay or foreplay with another man.")
12:25 p.m. Kobe comes out aggressive, driving at Shaq on the game's first possession. Shaq swats the ball away, but Kobe will not be deterred. Turns out, in a meeting Friday in which he encouraged his teammates to relax instead of trying too hard to help him beat Shaq, Kobe was told by those same guys to be more aggressive on offense than he has been all season. (Kobe later joked that "I backed the Hummer out of the garage and went straight to the bucket." He's offended by the Corvette references, obviously.)
12:46 p.m. Play resumes, but both Shaq and Kobe are out of the game. See? They still have something in common. The Heat is actually pleased to see Bryant taking an early rest, because Kobe, by this point, has already knocked in four three-pointers, even with Jones in his face, making him hoist contested jumpers.
12:51 p.m. One member of the O'Neal courtside posse is spotted climbing the stands to make a McDonald's run. What really stands out is his white T-shirt featuring an old picture of Kobe and Shaq, both in uniform, with Bryant resting his arm on O'Neal's shoulder. Except that a rat is superimposed over Kobe's face.
12:55 p.m. Early in the second quarter, Kobe appears to be drilled by Shaq on a drive. The crowd reacts to the Brick Wall slamming the Corvette, but replays show the hit wasn't all that hard.
12:58 p.m. Brian Cook -- yes, Brian Cook -- uncorks a double-clutch, lefty scoop layup to keep the Lakers up three at 37-34. Believe it or not, this will stand as the most spectacular move in the game until the fourth quarter.
1:05 p.m. Shaq jumps a pick-and-roll more actively than usual to confront Kobe on the perimeter. Kobe travels.
1:06 p.m. On the next trip downcourt, Shaq uses Kobe's back as a boost and rises up to catch a Keyon Dooling lob and slams it through. Chris Mihm, Lamar Odom and Luke Walton watch helplessly in the vicinity. On the way back to his defensive post, Shaq spots Snoop Dogg in the front row and screams, "I built this mother-bleepin' place."
1:21 p.m. It's Kobe's turn to retaliate, with a jumper over Shaq on the umpteenth pick-and-roll L.A. has called. Not that anyone should be surprised, but it feels as though Kobe's draining everything he throws up.
1:25 p.m. Shaq is pulled for the final 55.5 seconds of the first half and boos ensue. The boos, mind you, are for Stan Van Gundy, since no one came here to see Bryant on the floor Shaq-less.
1:50 p.m. Bryant, who had 20 points at the half to Shaq's 11, gets an early trip to the line in the third quarter. In between free throws, a courtside fan screams, "You snitch." Loudly.
1:52 p.m. Kobe, undaunted, answers a Shaq bank shot with his fifth triple. Again, none of these were gimme threes. He's obviously feeling it.
1:57 p.m. Chucky Atkins, he of the 15 3-point attempts in Wednesday's win over New Orleans, drains his fourth triple to stretch the Lakers' lead to eight at 71-63. It's the biggest lead L.A. forges all afternoon, but the hosts promptly surrender 10 of the next 12 points to set up a tight finish.
2:18 p.m. The Lakers have built the lead back up to seven at 80-73. The crowd launches into the afternoon's second stirring chant of "Ko-be, Ko-be, Ko-be." Bryant responds by throwing the ball straight out of bounds.
2:19 p.m. Kobe drives and Shaq gets a piece. Of the ball, not Kobe. Don't be so cynical.
2:28 p.m. Wade came close late in the third quarter with his own reverse layup, but Shaq finally knocks Cook out of the Most Acrobatic Play lead with a scoop layup of his own that I can barely describe. At the end, it looked a bit like he was shoveling a pizza into the oven.
2:32 p.m. Kobe, with 36 points at this point and the Lakers clinging tenuously to an 86-82 lead, is named Carl's Jr. Star of the Game. Little did the good people at Carl's know that Bryant wouldn't produce another basket; his final six points would all come from the free-throw stripe.
2:41 p.m. With 2:15 to play, Bryant does make a rather starry contribution by driving the ball right at Shaq. O'Neal, who had just put down a follow slam to tie it at 91-91, fouls hard to pick up his sixth personal. The fans join in as Ray Charles' famed "Hit The Road Shaq" blares over the sound system. Bryant's two free throws give L.A. a 93-91 edge and a huge advantage with O'Neal gone. ("I kind of forgot I had five (fouls)," Shaq revealed afterward.)
2:53 p.m. So much for momentum. Miami survives sans Shaq and even has the chance to win the game in regulation, with Wade isolated against Jumaine Jones -- yes, Jumaine Jones -- in the final seconds. Yet Wade, for some reason, makes no attempt to drive the ball and settles for a jumper just inside the 3-point arc. He misses badly.
2:57 p.m. Wade's reluctance to drive on Jumaine Jones seems even more strange when he produces the first of two tasty spin moves in OT. On this one, he loses Jones on the wing and banks in a short jumper with his off hand.
3:03 p.m. Wade does it again, this time with a righty floater. Of course, the bigger question -- more of a mystery than Wade's passivity at the regulation buzzer -- is why Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich hasn't switched Bryant onto Wade by this point.
3:10 p.m. Eddie Jones and Wade harass Bryant into a rushed, leaning triple at the buzzer that looked wide from the moment he released it, sending Kobe on a lonely walk back to the home locker room as Shaq and the rest of the Heat celebrated at midcourt. It means No. 8 finishes 1 for 9 from the floor in the fourth quarter and OT, going scoreless over the final seven-plus minutes. Maybe Tomjanovich thought Bryant, whose 42-point brilliance was dulled somewhat by nine turnovers, lacked the gas needed to check Wade in the extra period. (Whatever the explanation, Rudy T.'s counterpart was gushing afterward. "It didn't end up just another game," Van Gundy would say. It should be noted, though, that Van Gundy could also be heard chastising the media for overhyping the rivalry, saying: "It was ridiculous, in my opinion. I'm old-fashioned, really. I only care about the game. You would have thought it was J-Lo and Ben Affleck breaking up.")
3:44 p.m. O'Neal plops down for his postgame news conference and unleashes a string of gems that suggest no one overhyped anything. Among them is the confirmation that he did not speak to Bryant at all ("No, no, no," Shaq says) and that he only misses certain things about Los Angeles.
"The police officers. The people. The kids in the 'hood. Fox Hills Mall. Beverly Center. All the superstars. And I miss the atmosphere. Don't miss the traffic and don't miss two or three people."
Pressed to name those two of three people, Shaq adds: "I don't know. I don't know their names. Their names have been erased out of my memory."
Asked, furthermore, whether his "No Layups, No Dunks" vow was applied to every Laker, O'Neal admits: "Basically everybody, but especially him."
Him being Joe Frazier. Or Muhammad Ali. I'll try to figure out who's who by March 17, when they meet again in Miami.