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LAKERS SERIES REPORT / ANOTHER VIEW

The Oregonian

April 24, 2001|CHUCK CULPEPPER

Ever loved somebody despite the flaws? Never mind, you don't have to answer that right now.

That's what we do with basketball. A great many people love basketball--if fewer than do NASCAR--by forgiving its blemishes as an idea, chiefly this whole business over what constitutes a foul and what doesn't. We even nod and accept that one of the all-time singular shots evolved only because Michael Jordan pushed off on Bryon Russell.

It's our most flawed sport, but we're addicts, rationalizers. So the drudgery arrives at postgame, when each team stridently argues the officials have afforded the other a break. It's the most frustrating kind of debate because everyone is sort of right. It's a blight, but we tolerate it because we're mesmerized.

The Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal claims he is the only player permitted to use "only 20%" of his strength, that officials punish him for hugeness by assuming normal hackings bring no harm, thus no foul. Study the game objectively and you can spot his point. The Blazers lose and whine and lose and whine. Their conduct already brings embarrassment to a city and a sport, so it's hard to listen when they cite O'Neal for initiating contact with his elbows or owing rent for elongated stays in the lane. Study the game objectively, though, and you can spot their point. . . .

This isn't like the latest Rasheed Wallace embarrassment ending the first half Sunday, for at least that topic brings clarity. In that case, the Blazers are either lacking information or lying when they assert the official instigated the ill will. Plain to any curious eyeball was Wallace petulantly heaving the basketball into the air as the half closed, not one of the world's safer procedures.

Whatever the call or non-call that aggrieved him, his inability to play through officials' unavoidable errors makes him the detriment he so resolutely is. Maybe the officials should parrot to him his profanities at his every missed shot, except that would make two wrongs.

From thousands of miles away, his mushrooming technical fouls are a laugh riot. Get closer, and they're an annoyance. View them regularly, they're vile. He corrodes a team in a sport demanding teamwork. He makes fools of intelligent teammates who resort to arguing his technicals to improve his game.

Let's check his fourth-quarter line from Sunday: eight minutes, zero for three from the floor, zero for one from three-point distance, one rebound. Maybe Coach Mike Dunleavy should have played him the full 12 minutes, especially during Portland's destructive outset. Let's factor it out over 12 minutes: zero for four, one rebound, not quite starshine.

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