BEVERLY AND ROBERTSON, WEST HOLLYWOOD
We are stopped, yet the can of Mountain Dew in the cup holder is
doing the watusi. The windows are closed, yet my hair is doing a
scene from Twister. The truck roof is bouncing up and down like
popcorn in a pan.
Poltergeist? No, just Shaquille O'Neal turning up the 3,700-watt
stereo system in his blue Ford Expedition until the sound is
akin to what you would hear if you lived in a small compartment
inside the engine of a DC-10. It is very loud in here. Oh my
god, is it loud.
In the backseat, the man called Dirt seems to be laughing.
Outside, people in chichi restaurants are looking up in horror
from their sun-dried radicchio. Shaq is grinning his crazy
lopsided cross-eyed grin.
"DO YOU ALWAYS PLAY IT THIS LOUD?" I inquire.
"WHAAAT?" he replies.
"DOES IT HAVE TO BE THIS LOUD?"
"NO, BRO, I HAVEN'T LOST ANY POUNDS."
Sigh. This is going to be a very tough interview.
THE FORUM, INGLEWOOD
The sound is excruciating. The spectators' faces at a pregame
shootaround are contorted. These people are in pain. This is
because Shaq is practicing free throws.
Since Shaq left his personal Mousetrap in Orlando on July 18 and
signed professional sports' most ridiculous long-term deal
yet--$120 million over seven years--with the Los Angeles Lakers,
he has put the Fabulous back in the Forum. By the end of January
the Lakers were in first place in the Pacific Division and had
the best record in the Western Conference this late in the
season for the first time since 1991, and Shaq was the only man
in the NBA in the top five in four major categories (scoring,
rebounds, shooting percentage and blocks). Then, on Feb. 12,
Shaq hyperextended his left knee, fracturing a bone and
partially tearing a ligament in the process. The Lakers lost 12
of their next 28 games and fell to the fourth playoff spot in
the Western Conference. Last Friday night Shaq came back in a
home game against the Phoenix Suns, and L.A. expects nothing
less than a Frank Capra ending to break out.
Some good things have happened because of the injury. Shaq has
realized how much he wants to be a great Lakers player. "I want
my jersey up there someday," he says, pointing to the Forum wall
where the retired numbers hang. He has labored obsessively to
rehab the knee, lifting, bicycling, running and, recently, for
two hours every day, working on his game with Magic Johnson.
Shaq has also realized how much he respects his new teammates.
"I wouldn't mind coming off the bench," he said before his
The bad thing is that with all that time on his hands, Shaq has
logged even more hours at the free throw line, and Shaq on the
free throw line is not a pretty thing. Of the 130 players in the
league who have made at least 125 foul shots, Shaq ranks dead
last. His free throw percentage has dropped every year he's been
a pro, down to his current .469, which is even lower than Wilt
Chamberlain's sorry lifetime mark of .511. Shaq has turned the
foul line into the Yipe! stripe, and he has become everyone's
favorite fourth-quarter welt post.
"Everybody in the league knows to foul Shaq," says Magic.
"Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] was a clutch free throw shooter. He
wanted it at the end." If you have a narrow lead, you do not
want Shaq on the line at the end. You do not win NBA titles when
your go-to guy in the fourth quarter can't make a free throw to
save his car stereo.
"He doesn't have a good touch with the ball," says Abdul-Jabbar,
the Lakers' last monster center before Shaq. "Any shot that he
takes from more than two feet that he can't jam seems to lack
touch. He's not selfish, he plays hard, he plays for the team,
but there's just not much progress with the soft touch."
Not that he isn't trying. Before he was injured, Shaq arrived an
hour before practice to shoot free throws and stayed long after
practice to shoot some more. Nightly during his rehab he went to
a Manhattan Beach gym and worked on his foul shot. Yet it seems
hopeless. Watching him practice free throws is like watching a
man try to throw a grapefruit into a milk bottle. "I don't know
what's wrong," says Magic. "His shot, he just, he just has got
The knee does not keep Shaq out of the driver's seat. He pulls
the Mobile Earache into the second floor of the parking garage
at UCLA, where he works out with Magic. Two car alarms go off.
USC, NEAR DOWNTOWN L.A.
Oh, the places Shaq can go in L.A.--and if there is anything
Shaq loves to do, it's to go places. Today he approaches a
retired English teacher and asks him the same question he always
asks him. "What's my word for the day, Pop?"
Pop is Sam Armato, USC professor emeritus and father of Shaq's
agent, Leonard. "Ancillary," the professor says. He explains
that the word means subordinate, secondary, a side dish.
A few nights later Shaq tells reporters, "I do have other
interests, but they're ancillary."
Ancillary? You could employ a small country helping Shaq pursue
his ancillary interests. This is what he has going in Los
Angeles as we speak (ready? Inhale!): This summer he will appear
in his third movie (Steel, produced by Quincy Jones); he has his
own record label and line of clothing (TWIsM: The World Is
Mine); he is promoting his third rap CD (You Can't Stop the
Reign); he is developing his own TV series (Hoops, a
basketball-themed show); he has been nominated for a Grammy as a
contributor to a music compilation produced by Jones (Q's Jook
Joint); he has his own Web site (www.shaq.com); he has marketing
relationships with more than 10 companies (which he sometimes
plugs ad nauseam--when he signed with L.A., he said the way for
the Lakers to win was, "Play hard, drink Pepsi and wear
Reeboks"); he is a partner in the entertainment company A.S.E.
(Armato is Shaq Entertainment--get it?); he and the Universal
Studios theme park are developing a Shaq "entertainment venue,"
in which you will be able to pursue your favorite Shaqtivities,
such as recording rap music, playing video games and jamming
basketballs--but not, at least so far, sitting in a car and
having your ears turned to Gerber's. (Exhale.)
"In the last year?" says Bucky, Shaq's driver-personal
assistant-gofer. "I've had one day off. I mean, the guy never
LA CIENEGA AND MELROSE, WEST HOLLYWOOD
"Dirt, why do you think Shaq loves it in L.A. so much?" I ask.
"More roads," says Dirt.
Shaq has always loved U.S. road travel. Coming home from his
first day at preschool in Jersey City, he refused to get off the
bus. His mother asked what was up. "Wanna keep riding," he said.
After losses at the Forum, Shaq will keep riding, sometimes for
four hours. After wins, though, the route is always the same. It
includes his favorite streets--Wilshire, Sunset, Melrose, Third,
Beverly--a stop at Jerry's Famous Deli for a sausage-and-cheese
omelette and pancakes, and then home. When you are Shaq, there
are only two places you can hide: your house and your car. And
even though Shaq lives in a 5,000-square-foot penthouse with a
360-degree view of L.A., he likes the car better. In the car he
also has the privilege of using the bass to realign his spleen.
He says, "Mllnghrose, bro, thzzwhr I rnngmb cnk itup."
It is so very loud in here. "I'M SORRY?" I shout.
"MLLNGHROSE, THZZWHR I RLLY CRNK INGUP!"
"MELROSE IS WHERE YOU REALLY CRANK IT UP?"
Oh god. We are turning onto Melrose. He reaches for the little
joystick that controls the colossal power of the world's
cruelest sound system. "That's O.K.," I say nervously. "You
But it is too late. The system is cranked, and there is nothing
that can be done by any human, save Shaq, to uncrank it. Arm
hairs stand. The volume numbers climb ... 20 ... people on the
street look up in shock ... 35 ... the heads of old men in
barbershops snap up in horror ... 42 ... I am trapped inside
Dick Vitale's larynx.
Shaq rolls his window down and grins wildly at the stunned
people on the street. Two blocks later, he turns the dial down
to 3. "I love to see the reactions, bro," he says. "Old people
just hate it."
Cripes, it's loud in here. This is because Shaq has just spun a
360-degree vortex move ending with a Herman Munster jam in the
slack-jawed face of Mike Brown of the Phoenix Suns. This is last
Friday night, Shaq's first night back after missing 28 games in
rehab. He is only supposed to play a little, but he gets carried
away, ding-ding-dinging up a game-high 24 points along with 11
rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots. The Lakers win
114-98, flushing the Suns' winning streak at 11, and all is
right with the great Los Angeles basin and one very big knee.
Shaq is baq. On Sunday he nails a baseline jumper at the buzzer
to beat the Utah Jazz 100-98.
"It's like the '80s are here again," says an usher. Since Shaq
came to L.A., stars are leather-to-leather once more at the
Forum (so far this season: Jack Nicholson, Jim Carrey, Arsenio
Hall--he's back!--Cindy Crawford, Garry Shandling, Denzel
Washington, Brandy, Sharon Stone, Dennis Miller, Pete Sampras,
Kevin Costner, Evander Holyfield, the usual assortment of
Baldwins, Robert Shapiro and everybody else you can think of
from the O.J. trial).
All-Star swingman Eddie Jones has been terrific. Rookie center
Travis Knight has been nice. But Shaq is the main reason L.A. is
hot. No Laker has scored like this since Abdul-Jabbar in
1980-81. No Laker has rebounded like this since Abdul-Jabbar in
1978-79. No Laker has blocked shots at this rate since
Abdul-Jabbar in 1979-80. Shaq is the leader of the team: He
climbed all over La-Z-Boy forward Elden Campbell early in the
year, he's chaperoning rookie guard Kobe Bryant through his
teenage years ("Can you believe how loud that stereo is?" says
Bryant), and he's keeping point guard Nick Van Exel somewhere in
the vicinity of this planet. "We had heard he wouldn't do much
voicing of his opinion here," Lakers coach Del Harris says of
Shaq. "But he has."
Folks in Orlando might think he is doing a little too much
voicing of his opinion. "The general manager here actually
played in the league," Shaq says of the Lakers' Jerry West (who
is actually executive vice president of basketball operations),
as opposed to Magic senior executive vice president Pat
Williams. (Replies Williams: "I know I don't have Jerry West's
jumper. But I have a hoop in the backyard now, and I'm working
More L.A.-versus-Orlando Shaqrimony: "These fans know the game,"
Shaq says, presumably dissing crowds at the O-rena. He relishes
being with a franchise in which he is part of great basketball
history, not the entire history.
He seems to like the coach in L.A. better, too. At Magic's
Sports Star Award dinner on Jan. 21, Shaq got up and said, "I'd
like to thank Del Harris for calling my plays." Emphasis on the
plural. In Orlando, Shaq's basic play was to set up on the right
block and let the power forward cut through. Now he gets the
ball on the right block, left block, free throw line, left wing,
right wing, places with room to demonstrate his handsome
ball-handling skills. Remember, this is a guy who as a kid
always wore Magic's jersey, not Kareem's.
The only problem is that all those bright lights in the Forum
have revealed flaws in Shaq's game. After five years in the
league, he still seems to have only four shots: the two-handed
earth-shaking dunk, the one-handed Inglewood-shaking dunk, the
sky-throw and the fadeaway air ball.
"I love Shaq," Magic says, "but he needs another shot. Kareem
had more moves. Shaq needs the drop-step move Kareem had."
"Ever thought of having Kareem in to show you a few tricks?" I
"Ahh, bro," he says. "I've got all that. I just ain't showing it
yet. And remember: I'm the only one who sent Michael Jordan home."
May 18, 1995, Eastern Conference semifinals, Orlando over the
Chicago Bulls, four games to two.
Typical rich jock. Takes another babe to the airport. Gives her
a big kiss goodbye. Tells her he'll think of her all the time.
Promises to call her four times a day.
Wait a second. This rich jock does think of the babe all the
time. Does call her four times a day. Wears her name in gold and
jewels around his neck. Records his voice on a tape for her to
play over and over when she misses him. Enters malls all across
America and comes out with armfuls of presents to ship to her.
Doesn't want to marry her, of course--but can't wait to change
her diapers again.
The new babe in Shaq's life is Taahirah O'Neal, a nine-month-old
beauty by way of his longtime girlfriend, Arnetta Yardbourgh.
Taahirah and Arnetta live in Houston but are constantly being
sent for by the boss.
"Daddy's right here," Shaq recorded on a tape for Taahirah.
"Daddy's right here. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." He also put her ABCs
on the tape, and a few of his rap songs, and parts of the
dictionary (Shaq's mother used to read the dictionary to him
when he was a boy), and some soul music. The man is seriously in
love. He even took Lamaze classes for Taahirah's birth and was
there all the way, except for the moments when, according to his
6'3" mother, Lucille, "I thought he was going to faint."
That's another thing that drove Shaq from Orlando--the way
people in the town dealt with Arnetta's pregnancy. "They said,
'So, where'd he meet her, in a hotel?'" Shaq says. "'How much
money does she want?' They just assumed it was some dirty thing.
Now people want to know why she isn't living with me. She's
going to school [masters program, communications, Houston]. What
am I gonna do, say, 'No, you need to move here right now'?"
"You thinking of marrying her?" I ask.
"Bro, for all you know, I might already be married."
We checked. As far as we can tell, he isn't.
JERRY'S FAMOUS DELI, WEST HOLLYWOOD
Shaq hates to wait for traffic, success or food. The first time
he walked into Jerry's with his posse of payrolled relatives,
security guys and wall leaners--the Men of Unclear Purpose--he
asked the waiter, "What's the biggest tip you ever got?"
"Mmmm ... fifty bucks," the waiter said.
"If we eat fast, I'll quadruple that."
You cannot imagine how fast you can get a few sausage-and-cheese
omelettes at Jerry's Famous Deli if you put your mind to it.
Yes, Shaq is happy in L.A. The city seems to have given him room
to swing his 45-inch arms. A military kid, he moved around a
lot--Newark, Jersey City, West Germany, San Antonio--but L.A. is
really his home. He has come here every summer for the past
eight years, since he was 16, just to hang, to work out with
Magic or to make movies. One year he came out and sold
trailer-park lots. One year he did nothing but ride around in a
friend's Volvo. Now he is here with a wad of 100's in his pocket
and a big lopsided grin on his face.
"I think he's happier here, in an environment where he can
flourish," says Leonard Armato. "He's not under an unfair
magnifying glass. If he misses a free throw, O.K., he missed a
free throw, and the press can rip him for that, but not for more
than that. He's not being unjustly criticized down to the
In Orlando small things seemed to pile up on the big man. He
hated the poll the Orlando Sentinel took in his last season,
asking, "Is Shaq worth $115 million?" and he hated the
predictable answer: 91.3% said, Hell no. He hated the power
struggle with his coach, Brian Hill. He hated being such a big
fish in a medium-sized tank. In L.A. he is one of hundreds of
very big fish in the biggest and brightest fish tank in the world.
"I never dreamed I'd be playing for the Lakers," Shaq says in a
rare quiet moment. "When I was a kid, I hardly had any
self-esteem. Did you know I skipped first grade? And it was like
there were some things I wasn't good at. I used to be coloring
and thinking I was doing pretty good, and then I'd look at the
kid next to me, and his drawing would be so much nicer, you
know? Neater. All inside the lines. When I was 13, I was 6'7"
and couldn't dunk. And the kids would say, 'Man, you so soft!
You can't even dunk!'
"I've always listened to the iffers. They'd be like, 'Yeah, you
doin' good in high school, but if you get to the McDonald's
All-America game you ain't gonna do s---!' And then it was,
'Yeah, you an All-American at LSU, but if you get to the pros,
you won't be nothin'!' And now it's, 'Yeah, you got all these
movies and ads and rap CDs and stuff, but you ain't never won a
championship.' Well, I'm glad I got my iffers, because they keep
PACIFIC THEATRE, EL SEGUNDO
Now wait a minute. How did Shaq and the Men of Unclear Purpose
find a movie theater with nobody in the seats?
"I bought every ticket, bro," says Shaq, smiling lopsidedly. "I
said, 'How many seats in your theater?' And the lady said, 'Two
hundred.' And I said, 'I'll take 'em all!' Seven bucks a ticket!"
That's another reason Shaq loves L.A.: It's Movietown, and Shaq
was raised on movies. Rocky IV is what made him start lifting
weights. The Superman movies gave him an alter ego. He keeps an
original Freddy Krueger prop glove and one of the masks from Jim
Carrey's The Mask at his penthouse, where he sits in front of
his DirecTV screen and orders up movies by the dozen--he has
seen his own Kazaam more than a dozen times--at $2.99 each. "I
must own this company by now, bro," he says gleefully, for he is
never so happy as when he is spending money at ungodly rates.
If he keeps making movies as dreadful as Kazaam, he will soon
have a little less to spend. His next movie, Steel, is supposed
to be better. Based on the comic-book series of the same name,
it's the story of a former military metallurgist who dons a suit
of armor and fights crime. The movie was Shaq's idea, naturally.
He handed the comic book to Quincy Jones and said, "This is me."
Replied Q: "Let's star you in it!" At that very moment, 5,000
classically trained actors working as waiters blanched.
In this movie, which was filmed last summer and should be
released in August, Shaq did most of his own stunt work,
possibly because every other agile 7'1", 300-pounder was already
employed in the NBA. Shaq ran under a burning helicopter. He
jumped off a moving train. He jumped from the top of one
20-story building to another.
"Shaq," I say, "you've got another job making $17 million a
year. Are you out of your cranium?" Dirt muffles a laugh.
"Bro, me and Dirt used to do that stuff all the time back home
[in Newark]," Shaq says. "Roof to roof? We'd do that s--- daily."
LITTLE SANTA MONICA BLVD., CENTURY CITY
As we extend the record for Longest Interview with Fewest Words
Exchanged, there is not much to do besides wonder how life will
be when we're as deaf as Pete Townshend--and, of course, take
stock of the subject at hand. For a genetic freak, Shaq is
perfectly proportioned. Standing in a field 100 yards away, he
looks like anybody else. It's only when you get close that your
flabber gets gasted. From his belt to the floor you could fit
Ross Perot. His neck is 19 inches around. His size-22 sneakers
are so big that whenever he signs a pair and they are taken back
up to the Lakers public relations office, people gather around
and take turns stepping into them--shoes and all--giggling all
Unlike many of the tall, Shaq doesn't slouch, and often, when he
gets dressed up, he wears fedoras that make him even taller. He
wears either sweats or gorgeous high-collared suits--nothing in
between. He paints his toenails. He is a wonderful dancer, as I
see sometimes when we park and he gets out and starts dancing to
his four-wheel concert. His voice is nice, even Shaqapella.
His hands are huge and soft, and at Lakers practices he likes
nothing more than leading a fast break. "He's got a crossover
dribble," gasps Bryant. "A seven-footer with a crossover dribble!"
He has an easy way about him and likes to pull legs. If you
introduce yourself as Steve, he might say, "Nice t'meetcha, Doug."
"Steve," you'll say. "It's, uh, Steve."
"Sorry?" he'll ask, bending down to hear.
"It's, uh, not Doug, it's Steve."
"Oh, sorry," he'll say, looking away again, "George."
MELROSE AVENUE, HOLLYWOOD
You half expect Shaq to pull into the Paramount Pictures lot,
get a half-caf, half-decaf skinny latte, maybe do lunch with
some execs. But he does not pull in. Shaq does not want to be a
corporate entity moonlighting three hours a day as an NBA
center. He is serious about business--he likes his friends to
call him Enrico Gates, after Roger Enrico, CEO of Pepsi, and
Bill Gates of Microsoft--but he is twice as serious about hoops.
He makes movies only during the summer and insists on having an
NBA basket outside his trailer. (While filming Steel he
practiced free throws, and he and Bucky played two set painters
two-on-two for hours every day.) Shaq does no ads, appearances
or rap recording on game days. "He's committed to basketball,"
says Harris. "He works as hard as anybody. And I don't think
making movies ruins your basketball career. It hasn't seemed to
hurt Michael Jordan."
Says Shaq: "People expected me to freak out here. Well, I didn't."
In fact, one night when we were at his penthouse, the Men of
Unclear Purpose informed him that he was invited not only to the
premiere of the Rodney Dangerfield movie Meet Wally Sparks but
also to a Damon Wayans party.
"Nuh-uh," said Shaq. He also didn't go to the Grammys.
"Couldn't," he says.
"Why not?" I ask.
"Because, bro. That's just what they wanted me to do."
MANCHESTER AND LA BREA, INGLEWOOD
A cherry Impala lowrider pulls up next to an
unsuspicious-looking blue Ford Expedition. The driver of the
lowrider is playing his stereo very loudly.
Behind dark tinted windows, Shaq grins lopsidedly. He turns the
volume on his own system to 12, which is slightly louder than
the lowrider's offering. The lowrider counters with a small
avalanche of noise. This knob-a-knob goes a couple of more
rounds. Now the traffic light is about to go green. With a small
tweak of his giant thumb, Shaq visits upon his poor challenger's
tympana an apocalypse of noise--35 by the stereo's count, and we
know too well the hell this can bring. The Impala's driver jerks
upright and looks over in horror. Shaq rolls down his window
halfway, grins at the man and peels off.
I can lip-read what he says to me, because he does it with such
relish: Love to tease 'em, bro.
WILSHIRE CORRIDOR, BEVERLY HILLS
What with the baby, Shaq has decided that he needs a crib with
more rooms, so we are out hunting. The first place we go to must
be the world's largest town house. The owner--Sheldon Ausman,
the man who is trying to build a football stadium in downtown
L.A.--has a 100-gallon saltwater fish tank in the living room
filled with very big fish. Shaq was no A student at LSU, but he
recognizes symbolism when it slaps him in the face. Big fish in
a big tank. Shaq in L.A. Shaq points. Shaq grins from here to
Later, in the lobby of a swank high-rise, the elderly owner
sniffs, "I believe an acquaintance of yours is one of our
"Really?" says Shaq. "Who?"
"A Mr. Doggy Dogg?"
Dirt melts in laughter, and Shaq will feed him lines the rest of
"Yes," says Shaq snootily. "A package for Mr. Doggy Dogg?"
LOYOLA MARYMOUNT, WESTCHESTER
Alone again, Shaq is at the Lakers' practice site before his
comeback, clanking free throws as though he were still in his
Steel armor. Then he sinks a succession of shots and gets cocky.
"When I come back, I ain't missin'," he says. "And you can quote
me! I ain't missin'!" But then he starts missin'. Magic has been
working with him, getting him to bend his knees and take his time.
Shaq shoots too low is what the problem is. The ball leaves his
hand at about 8 1/2 feet and never gets past 10. He misses free
throws right and left and short and long, but they are always
too low. He clanks them, shanks them and even tries to bank
them, but they are too low. They have no arc. They have no
backspin. Giant orange knuckleballs. I cannot take it anymore.
"Shaq," I say. "Look how little you break your wrist. You're
shot-putting 'em. Why don't you bring your wrist back parallel
to the floor so you get some backspin?"
"Because I can't," he says.
"No, bro. I broke my wrist when I was a kid in Germany. Fell out
of a tree. The thing fused or something. Look at this." He can
bring his wrist back only a few inches, as if he were wearing a
"No, bro. My s--- is all messed up. It comes off all to the
Says Abdul-Jabbar, "That would explain a few things."
THE PENTHOUSE, WILSHIRE CORRIDOR
If you were as rich as Shaq, you would probably live like he
lives. He has hired half his family and some friends, too. As we
said, it is unclear exactly what these people do, but Shaq would
do anything for his relatives and pals, including pay and, in
many cases, house and feed them. There is Kenny, Shaq's cousin,
whose main job seems to be to remind Shaq of things. Today, for
instance, Kenny reminds Shaq that he has a radio show to do at 5
o'clock. But you would not say Kenny is Shaq's personal
scheduler, because that is Uncle Mike's title. This means that
Uncle Mike gets the day's personal schedule from Armato and in
turn gives it to Shaq. Why Armato cannot give it to Shaq himself
Uncle Mike also seems to have something to do with security, but
that seems to be the official job of Uncle Jerome, who is not
Shaq's uncle at all but was Mike's partner on the Newark police
force. It is also unclear why a 25-year-old giant who has
practiced martial arts needs a full-time security man 13 years
older than he is, but this is none of our business, and besides,
Jerome looks like he could turn a reporter into a large blood
Bucky is Shaq's driver, but then so is Dirt, although I did not
see either of them drive Shaq anywhere. Still, Bucky is always
driving somebody, and, as a native Angeleno, he must stand by at
all times for emergency routing calls from Shaq. "I'm by the big
doughnut," Shaq might phone to say. "Is there a shortcut home
Joe, Shaq's chum from high school, has a very clear job. He
handles the mail.
There is also Thomas, Shaq's personal chef. Shaq hired Thomas
away from a Hyatt Regency near Orlando at twice his salary
because of the exquisite way he made Shaq's club sandwich one
day. It is unclear how much job fulfillment there is in Thomas's
position. For instance, as part of Shaq's unbreakable game-day
ritual, Thomas makes two beautiful Dagwood sandwiches for Shaq,
who takes one bite out of one sandwich and leaves the rest.
Thomas also seems to warm the baby's milk a lot. This is life in
Shaq's World: One day you are working in a giant hotel's
restaurant operation, and the next day you are making a small
fortune dabbing milk on your wrists.
Since the injury, there is even less for Thomas to do, because
Shaq has cut back his colossal intake of food and eats mostly
salads and fruits. (One day after a workout, Shaq pulls up his
sweaty size XXXXXL shirt and shoves his bagel-sized belly button
against my thorax. "Pinch an inch," he challenges. I try. I
cannot. Still, this is much closer to an interview subject than
I care to be.)
Mostly, though, the Men of Unclear Purpose stand around the pool
table in Shaq's penthouse and shoot a lively game of craps. Then
many of them go home to Shaq's Manhattan Beach house, which they
have to themselves because Shaq doesn't like it anymore. ("Too
many people knockin' on the door," he grumbles.)
It is wonderful work if you can get it.
With the hearing I still have left, I make some calls about this
stereo business. Even Haas Auto Stereo, the company that
installed the system in Shaq's Ford Expedition, doesn't know how
powerful it is. "Our meters don't go that high," says Jeff Haas.
The folks at Haas do know, however, that when Shaq's car is
parked in their warehouse and one of its windows is cracked and
the system is cranked up, the breeze moves the pages on a wall
calendar 15 feet away.
Scott Genaw of ListenUp! Audio and Video in Denver says that
3,700 watts in a Ford Expedition would probably produce about
130 to 140 decibels. "That's like taking all the noise in the
Seattle Kingdome and sticking it in a car," he says. OSHA
guidelines say consistent exposure to 115 decibels for longer
than 15 minutes will begin causing permanent hearing damage.
I am ready to bring all this up to Shaq. Unfortunately Dr. Dre
has the floor.
"YOU'RE GONNA GO DEAF!" I holler.
"NO, BRO, WE KEEP GOING STRAIGHT HERE!"
Leaping from roof to roof on cue, churning out rap CDs, carrying
entire ad campaigns, starring in feature-length movies and
designing his own line of clothing are simple. Performing one of
the easiest feats in all of sports is another matter. Shaq
His failure as a free throw shooter kills people in the Lakers
organization, because they all like the kid so much. Shaq has
made the Lakers fun again. (Note to Lakers reserve center Sean
Rooks: Guess who filled the pocket of your red sport coat with
lotion?) Though he's big-time, Shaq does not do much big-timing.
"Anything I ask him to do," says Lakers public relations man
John Black, "he does." Shaq's huge "Shaqsgiving" turkey and
"Shaq-a Claus" toy giveaways in Watts this past holiday season
were big successes, and he wants to double his donation next
year. "He's one of the nicest kids I've ever been around," says
Soon, though, the Hollywood honeymoon will be over, and nobody
will remember that it took Chamberlain four years to bring a
championship to L.A. and Abdul-Jabbar five. The fans will want
an NBA title now.
But nobody will root harder for Shaq than Rudy Garciduenas, the
Lakers' equipment man the past 11 years. When Shaq arrived, he
couldn't believe Rudy was using his girlfriend's beat-up Hyundai
to get all the team's equipment from the Forum out to Loyola
"Man, you need a new ride," Shaq kept teasing Rudy. Yeah, yeah,
big joke. Rudy had heard it for years. But one day Shaq went up
to Rudy and said, "No, seriously, you need a new ride"--and
bought him a new Ford Ranger.
The day it arrived Rudy had a misty look in his eyes. He walked
toward the big man with open arms, and....
"No, no, no," said Shaq. "No hugs, bro."
Which only goes to show that even if a man can't make free
throws, he can still be a soft touch.
MY HOUSE, DENVER
There is this ringing in my ears. No, hold on. That's the phone.
It's my editor in New York.
"You're late on the Shaq piece," he says.
"WHAAAAT?" I inquire.
"ARE YOU EVER SENDING IN THE SHAQ PIECE?"
"I CAN'T COME BACK EAST RIGHT NOW, I'M TRYING TO FINISH THE SHAQ
This could get very convenient.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Shaq Is Back Laker Shaquille O'Neal, out of action for eight weeks with an injured left knee, made a slam-bam return to the court, scoring 24 points in his first game back (page 82). [T of C]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK [Shaquille O'Neal and others in car]
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/PEPSICO INC. Shaq's crib in L.A. isn't exactly as depicted in a recent Pepsi ad, but it could be if he so desired. [Shaquille O'Neal surrounded by women]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Late in his rehabilitation, Shaq tested the knee in two-hour workouts with his idol, Magic. [Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal playing basketball]
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS Shapiro is one of myriad L.A. celebs who welcomed Shaq with open arms. [Shaquille O'Neal carrying Robert Shapiro]
COLOR PHOTO: KATHY ANNE SCHMIDT Shaq, who did most of his stunts for "Steel," is hooked on the idea of movie stardom. [Shaquille O'Neal in harness on set of movie Steel]
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS The laid-back Left Coast lifestyle seems to suit Shaq,here at his palatial penthouse, just fine. [Shaquille O'Neal reclining on sofa]
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO A man can't go Hollywood without some support, and Shaq gets all he needs from posse members (from left) Jerome, Kenny and Dirt. [Shaquille O'Neal with friends Jerome, Kenny and Dirt]