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THE INSIDE TRACK | T.J. SIMERS

No One Can Take Any Free Shots at Shaq--Now

October 25, 2000|T.J. SIMERS

Let's face it, Shaquille O'Neal is bulletproof right now. He's a monster star, the game's most dominating basketball player and its most valuable player.

He's generous, has a teasing, delightful sense of humor and enough money now to shrug off most anything. As tall as he is, he has always looked down upon everybody, but now he really is on top of the world.

His team won the NBA championship, and no matter what else you might want to say, that's as good as it gets.

Until someone takes that title away, Shaq can do no wrong.

But he's pushing it.

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Had anyone else responded as he did to reporters Monday night in Las Vegas, they would most likely be apologizing today, or asking for the opportunity to clarify their remarks.

"I've never cared," about making free throws, Shaq said, and the next time you complain you have it tough at work, consider this: If Shaq makes three out of 10 free-throw attempts, as he has this preseason, he will still earn $76,530.61 for each one that goes in.

The other day Coach Phil Jackson made a point of saying his No. 1 concern about the Lakers' chances of repeating as champions was O'Neal's ability to improve as a free-throw shooter.

Instead, Shaq has regressed, but rather than take notice, he has adopted the attitude of successful teams who make the mistake of thinking they can turn it on whenever they want--only to get upset.

"When I concentrate, I hit them," O'Neal told The Times. "When I need to hit them, I hit them."

Until someone takes that title away, Shaq can do no wrong.

Maybe this was Shaq just being Shaq, trying to remind everyone that the same worries about his free-throw shooting a year ago never materialized, because the hardware now belongs to the Lakers.

Maybe this was Shaq, just being Shaq, letting everyone know the sky's not falling any time soon on his head.

Maybe this was Shaq just being Shaq, a little irritated with Jackson talking about his free-throw shooting, a little sarcastic like some columnists in this newspaper, and a little annoyed at being asked about nothing else.

" . . . I'm really not worried about [free throws]," O'Neal told reporters for the Orange County Register and the Long Beach Press-Telegram. "I've never been worried about it.

"I'll just shoot 'em. If they go in, they go in. If they don't, they don't. Only you guys [reporters] care. I don't give a [bleep]. I hope I shoot zero percent so you guys have something to write about. I've never cared."

I guess if Shaq doesn't care, we shouldn't care--until someone takes that title away.

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MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL has fined Roger Clemens $50,000 for losing his cool. They didn't have the authority to fine the media for losing its cool.

Keeping in mind that John Rocker became a national disgrace and tarnished the image of baseball everywhere, and an arbitrator reduced his 28-day suspension and $20,000 fine to 14 days and $500, Clemens will probably be able to pay off his fine--after its reduced--with his meal money.

I guess that means he won't be able to buy dinner for Mike Piazza.

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EVERYONE STILL SEEMED to be in a lather about the Clemens-Piazza ruckus Tuesday, prompting calls to sports talk radio wanting the Yankees' leadoff hitter to be hit in the head with the first pitch, or the Yankees' starting pitcher to be drilled, anything to incite both teams to take the field so some of the Mets could rough up Clemens.

This is what happens when you allow New Yorkers to move here.

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WHEN HE GOES to work today at Oak Tree at Santa Anita, Laffit Pincay Jr. will walk past a bronze bust of himself--a reminder of what he has already accomplished and hint for everyone else that it might be time to wager on the jockey rather than the horse.

Pincay, five wins shy of reaching 9,000 in his career, is one of only two jockeys to have more than 8,000 wins--along with Bill Shoemaker--and one of only six to have more than 7,000.

"If I have a bad day, I walk past that statue and I smile," he said.

It would be nice if Santa Anita built statues for all of us who have bad days at the track, so we could leave with a smile once in a while.

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BECAUSE THEY OFFICIALLY changed the name of Auraria Parkway in Denver to Patrick Roy Boulevard 30 hours before the Colorado Avalanche goalie was led away in handcuffs for investigation of domestic violence, why not go all the way and place a half-way house there for those in need? It would be an easy street to remember.

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THE DODGERS ARE working their way around the Yankees' infield, already interviewing shortstop Bucky Dent with appointments upcoming with Willie Randolph and Chris Chambliss. I guess that means Graig Nettles will be next, although I wouldn't put it past the search team of Bob Graziano and Kevin Malone to try to put in a call to Thurman Munson.

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TODAY'S LAST WORD comes in an e-mail from Jeffrey:

"The guy that writes for the UCLA web site for Rivals.com was in Steve Lavin's office and saw a message from Paul Hackett. Lavin said they are good friends, and along with Kevin Malone, the three have formed "The Bull's-eye Club," so named because they are unfairly targeted by the LA media."

I called Hackett. "How did you hear about that? I got a call last year and was told I was in. I don't know whose invention it was--probably Malone's. But I don't get together with them for dinner or anything like that--I've only met Malone once, and have talked to Lavin a couple of times. There's less here than you think."

Too bad--I have several other membership suggestions.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address:t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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