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Lakers visit with returning airmen

HONOLULU -- Coach Phil Jackson blew off practice Sunday
morning and took the Los Angeles Lakers on a field trip that Karl
Malone won't soon forget.

The Lakers took a bus across Oahu to Bellows Air Force Station,
where they played paintball for a few hours, then met with 20
airmen and airwomen who recently returned from Iraq and
Afghanistan.

Malone, who enjoys hunting, claims he dominated paintball. And
he was clearly touched by meeting with the Air Force personnel and
their families, many of whom brought basketballs to be autographed.
A few children wore Lakers jerseys.

"This is real," Malone said. "These are men and women who put
their lives on the line for us every single day. Some of the stuff
that we see on TV. Just being able to share a little bit of time
with them means so much to them. All we're saying is we appreciate
what they do every day. It's fun and games for us, but they have
the real people shooting at them."

Malone, who signed with the Lakers after playing 18 seasons with
the Utah Jazz, said the trip was a first for him.

"I've been playing ball almost 30 years and I've never
experienced anything like this, ever," Malone said. "It's always
been, camp starts, go to work. That's what you're getting paid for.
To break it up and do this, man, I don't know what to say."

Jackson planned the paintball game as a team-building trip, and
the visit with the airmen and their families was a bonus. And it
was something different after several days of practicing in hot
gyms at the University of Hawaii, and answering questions about
Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case.

"We want them to have some occasions to be together in
situations that aren't all basketball, but still let them grow a
little bit as a group so they can absorb the amount of energy
people have," Jackson said.

"Gary Payton has a big mouth. We're learning that about him,"
Jackson said about the Lakers' new guard. "He's a heckler. He gets
after people. Horace Grant, who's been with us, is a lot of times a
fun guy to have as one of those guys who gets heckled.

"Karl, he's dangerous on the rookies. They're watching their
step around him because they'll be sent for shaved ice, water,
chicken, or whatever he wants. So there are some things the group's
learning about each other's behavior right now that's important for
team-building."

Jackson said he chose paintball because "there are some skills
behind it. It wasn't just go out and shoot at everyone. It's about
team-building, taking objectives, capturing a flag. We actually
captured an ammunition dump."

Shaquille O'Neal, who would be an easy target at 7-foot-1, 340
pounds, "mostly stood in the background as a sentinel and a
sniper," Jackson said.