Diesel front and center on Miami landscape

Updated: July 21, 2004, 2:48 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Shaquille O'Neal weighs 340 pounds, and he's hungry.

He wants to show the NBA that the Los Angeles Lakers kept the wrong All-Star. And he plans to do it by leading the Miami Heat to a title.

Shaquille O'Neal
The Miami Heat threw a public celebration for O'Neal, and titled it "Shaq in Black."

O'Neal made a grand entrance Tuesday at a rally welcoming him to Miami. He arrived in a semi-tractor trailer with the words "Diesel Power" on the side, emerged from the cab firing a plastic water cannon at the crowd of several thousand, then followed a red carpet up the steps to the Heat's arena.

Once at the top, he pledged that an even bigger celebration is in the future.

"I'm going to bring a championship to Miami," O'Neal told the fans. "I promise."

At a news conference that followed, O'Neal spoke little about his differences with Kobe Bryant and Lakers management that triggered the trade. But he said he appreciates the way he has been embraced in Miami.

"I told my wife when I was rolling up, I felt like the president," he said. O'Neal then hummed "Hail to the Chief."

The rally came six days after the Heat acquired the 11-time All-Star in a trade that sent three starters to Los Angeles. Such festivities might seem premature to some cities, but Miami loves celebrities -- and winners.

Heat president Pat Riley remembers the sellout crowds the attendance-challenged Florida Marlins drew for last year's World Series, and he anticipates the same kind of box-office boost from O'Neal, especially if he leads the Heat to their first NBA title.

"We have definitely been blessed," Riley said. "Somehow he found his way down here to Miami -- the most talented, most dominant player in the world."

The first game is still 3 months away, but O'Neal already is the most entertaining act in town, and he never went long without a quip.

Shaquille O'Neal
O'Neal returns to his roots: Shaq will play for the Heat as No. 32.

  • On buying a home in South Florida: "I will be walking naked on the beach. If you take pictures of me naked on the beach, don't sell them to the Enquirer unless I get 15 percent."

  • On being 32 years old: "I'm like toilet paper, toothpaste and certain amenities -- I'm proven to be good. I've still got five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years left."

  • On his weight: "I play my best ball at 345. I need my meat because I'm going to take a beating. If you put a guy in front of me who eats salad and cucumber and baked chicken all day, I'll kill him."

    O'Neal referred to himself as "the Millennium Goliath," but even the world's most dominant player will need help transforming the Heat into champions.

    They've lost the entire front line from a team that went 42-40 last season and made an improbable run to the second round of the playoffs. O'Neal offered to help Riley recruit free agents to fill the roster openings created by the departure of center Brian Grant and forwards Caron Butler and Lamar Odom to the Lakers.

    And O'Neal is happy to join a team that still includes guard Eddie Jones, Miami's top scorer the past four years, and guard Dwyane Wade, a standout last season as a rookie.

    "They could have easily been in the Eastern Conference championships," O'Neal said. "They're one or two pieces away. And you've got a big piece now."

    Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press