MIAMI -- As he lay on the court in Chicago, grasping at his
left knee and wincing from the pain, Shaquille O'Neal feared he'd
never play again.
O'Neal leaped for an alley-oop pass from Miami Heat teammate
Dwyane Wade early in Tuesday night's game, a seemingly innocent
play. Yet the 7-foot-1, 325-pound behemoth landed awkwardly,
toppled over Bulls forward Othella Harrington -- and immediately
knew something was wrong.
"It didn't feel right when I landed," O'Neal said Saturday,
speaking in depth about the injury for the first time with
reporters. "I thought it was over.
"I've always had fears of ending my career like that," O'Neal
added. "As a youngster, when I'd talk to certain people and they
would try to motivate us to go to school, the first thing they'd
always say was 'What are you going to do when you blow your knee
out?' I've always had fears of coming down freakily like
Fortunately for the 12-time All-Star, it turned out to be only a
mild sprain, one that likely won't have him sidelined too much
longer. O'Neal missed essentially his third straight game Saturday,
and watched in a suit as the Heat beat Orlando 101-98.
O'Neal wore only a flexible blue brace over the knee before
Saturday's game, walked around the locker room without a noticeable
limp and said there's a chance -- albeit slim -- that he may play in
Orlando when the teams complete a weekend home-and-home series
All he would say publicly in recent days was that the knee felt
"good," and teammates said he immediately professed that the
injury wasn't too serious. Yet on Saturday, O'Neal indicated those
words may have been tinged with a bit of bravado.
Once I had the MRI, everything was OK,"
O'Neal said. "Made me feel a little bit better."
O'Neal is averaging 22.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks
this season, and has an NBA-leading field-goal percentage of 59.9.
He was injured less than two minutes into the Bulls' game, did
not return and didn't suit up for Miami's game in Indiana on
Wednesday. Miami lost both games in overtime.
"People think we can't win without Shaq," said Wade, who had
25 points in Saturday's victory. "We wanted to show we're a good
O'Neal has missed only three starts this season for Miami. A
variety of injuries sidelined him for 15 games in each of his last
three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.
He's receiving twice-daily treatments on the knee, and said that
at worst, he hopes to be back at practice next week. After Sunday's
game, the Heat are off until a road game with New Jersey on
"I think that people are figuring out that, obviously, we're
not nearly as good without him, but we're not just totally going to
fall apart," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Miami plays Chicago once more this season; the Bulls visit on
April 5. And O'Neal said he's looking forward to seeing Harrington
-- whom he called "clumsy" for falling over and causing the injury
-- again. Of course, he said it while smiling broadly and indicating
that he was kidding at least a little bit.
"I'm going to get him, going to make him pay," O'Neal said.