Shaq says Lakers additions create his 'Dream Team'

Updated: August 23, 2003, 7:40 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Shaquille O'Neal hopes the sexual assault case against Kobe Bryant doesn't drag on.

"It's an unfortunate situation. Kobe's a teammate of mine and a friend of mine," said O'Neal, who previously had been quiet during an extremely eventful summer for the Lakers.

"I'm very confident in the judicial system, so hopefully this will be resolved quickly. And hopefully it will be pain-free on both sides."

He added, "I've been instructed not to say anything about it."

Bryant is accused of sexual assault at a Colorado resort hotel on June 30.

Bryant, who turned 25 on Saturday, is free on $25,000 bond. He is scheduled to return to Eagle, Colo., for an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for a trial.

The Lakers' guard has claimed his 19-year-old accuser had consensual sex with him.

During a break Saturday at a kids basketball camp where he was gleefully working with youngsters, O'Neal did talk enthusiastically about the Lakers' signing of Karl Malone and Gary Payton.

"I'm very happy, because for the first time in my career, I finally have the dream team I've always wanted, the dream team that I've always been after. A hard-nosed point guard, a legendary power forward. That's all I ever wanted," he said.

"As long as we keep the ball moving, we're going to be a legendary hard-to-stop team. We have four future hall of famers."

After the team's string of three consecutive NBA titles ended with a Western Conference semifinals loss to eventual champion San Antonio last May, O'Neal said that he and Bryant needed a stronger supporting cast.

So the Lakers lured two of the best players in the game. Malone and Payton took big pay cuts to join the suddenly stacked Lakers. Neither of the two have an NBA championship ring.

"I think this will be the first time in my career when I don't have to score 30 points every night," O'Neal said. "After all the years of, `Shaq, you've got to score 30 points for us to even be in the game,' now we've got a lot of legends on our team.

"Karl Malone said it best: 'Pick your poison on any given night."'

O'Neal, looking relaxed and joking with the kids, said he feels more ready to go back to work this season than in the past.

"This is actually the first summer in a long time when I've had time to rest and recuperate. The other years, it would get down to the nitty-gritty (in the playoffs) and I would have to take a month off just to get my body right," he said.

"By then it's already August, and you have to come back in September and I've never really had time to get back in shape. Then there was the surgery."

He had toe surgery last Sept. 11 and wasn't as dominant when he finally began playing again 13 games into the season.

O'Neal said his feet, which have bothered him for several years, are "OK."

"I'm not pain-free, but I still can do what I do. And now I won't have to do it all. Anyway, everyone knows that after a loss, the beast is coming back," he said with a grin.

O'Neal, very active with kids in his reading and sports programs, seemed completely at home with the youngsters, ranging in age from 12 to 18 and coming from all over the country, at the "Nestle Crunch Hot Shots" camp at an upscale athletic club in West Los Angeles.

"I'm not a role model, I'm a real model," he said. "I don't do stuff for the cameras. A lot of the stuff I do, the media doesn't know about. These kids have people they want to be like, and they sit in their little hometowns and dream about things.

"If I can make somebody's dream come true, I'm all for it. I want to be one of the athletes that can help shape the direction of some of these young people."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press