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Lean and Mean O'Neal Begins a New Chapter

Lakers: Center draws a big crowd at first workout, but public isn't welcome.

August 24, 1996|CHRIS BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

How big a draw is Shaquille O'Neal?

O'Neal attracted more reporters for a private workout at Loyola Marymount Friday than the Clippers draw for a game.

"My goal is to come in next season and be a lean, mean dunking machine," O'Neal said. "I'm going back to the old Shaq, dunking, getting technical fouls and getting thrown out of games."

O'Neal, who signed a $120-million, seven-year deal with the Lakers last month before helping the Dream Team win an Olympic gold medal, worked out for about an hour and then met with the Southland media for the first time since signing with the Lakers.

"I think it's exciting because it's the start of a new chapter for the Lakers," said Leonard Armato, O'Neal's agent. "The chapter started with George Mikan and the next chapter was Wilt [Chamberlain] and Jerry [West] and Elgin [Baylor], and the next chapter was Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and Magic [Johnson], and now Shaquille's here and it's a whole new era.

"I think it's something that the city needed. We needed something to wrap our arms around and get excited about. Now we have this multimedia global icon coming to Los Angeles at the time when the franchise needs a boost."

Security was tight, as befitting a multimedia global icon.

A guard was posted at the gym entrance to keep fans out, and O'Neal was accompanied to the workout by his personal assistant and his bodyguard.

"You don't know how many people just want to come up and touch him," Armato said.

O'Neal, who spent the first four seasons of his NBA career with the Orlando Magic, hasn't taken long to adapt to the Southland.

"I've been coming here for the last eight summers, so I'm used to the weather and the beach life," he said. "I just bought me a big crib in Hermosa Beach. It's nice. I live right there on The Strand."

He said he won't miss Orlando.

"I'm a military child and I'm used to picking up every four to five years and starting all over," O'Neal said. "For me this is a fresh start."

Although O'Neal begins filming his third movie next week, he maintains that making movies and rap records are only summer jobs.

"I work on my game two hours, three hours a day," he said, adding that he also lifts weights with a personal trainer. "I'll be ready [when the 1996-97 season begins]. I've talked with [guard] Nick Van Exel a few times. My role will be to score and play good defense. I realize this organization has a good tradition of big men. I just want to add on to the great tradition that this organization has. I just want to win."

Laker forward Cedric Ceballos, who attended the workout, looks forward to playing with O'Neal.

"I haven't been this excited since I came to L.A.," Ceballos said. "I think we're the best team in the NBA right now. On paper we are. It's going to be fun. We've just got to learn to play together.

"I haven't met [rookie guard] Kobe Bryant yet, but once Kobe starts playing well and once Shaq starts ripping baskets down, it's going to be fun."

The Houston Rockets, who won consecutive titles in 1994 and 1995, acquired all-star forward Charles Barkley from the Phoenix Suns last Sunday, but Ceballos thinks the Lakers are better.

"We put a bunch of young guys together and they put a bunch of old guys together," Ceballos said. "We have an opportunity to try and step on them, put the old guys out of commission."

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