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Place in History? All in Good Time


Well, he had his chance.

Shaquille O'Neal was up on the podium at Continental Airlines Arena, the room in hushed anticipation of even his most banal remarks, and he was given the chance to put his team--his era--in its proper place.

He could have gone for it all, proclaiming this Laker team--his Laker team--the greatest that ever was, and nobody would have flinched. He could have made a bold declaration that he is what separates this L.A. team from all the rest that came before, and that their dominance of the last three postseasons proves it, end of story.

He ... declined.

"I think it will put us up there," Shaq said simply. "You know, we've been together a long time. We've been through a lot of hard times, more good times than hard times. But I think it will put us right up there with all the other great teams. It will be a big accomplishment for Phil [Jackson], a big accomplishment for myself, a big accomplishment for the city.... But it's not enough.

"When I'm done, that will be enough at that time. But right now, it's not enough."

It seems that it's not enough for anybody else, either. Not yet.

Clearly, Shaq has arrived at this conclusion either through modesty or greed: He wants more, and only after he gets it will he place himself among the pantheon of legends. Only then will he play the comparison game, only then will he dare place his name alongside those of Russell and Jordan.

"I asked Kobe Bryant today what he saw beyond this year," said Jack Ramsay, the ESPN analyst. "And what he said impressed me: He's already talked to his other guys--Shaq, Robert Horry, Rick Fox--about working out this summer. They didn't do that last year. But now they're thinking in those terms, thinking about pushing this as far as they can go.

"So we're going to find out. But this team, right now, if you're comparing it with the all-time great teams, it's not there yet. They seem to know you have to have longevity. They're getting there, though."

Pat Riley spent Monday on an L.A. beach, which put him in a mood for California Dreaming.

"To me, this L.A. team's greatness is born out of a combination of talent and system," said the coach of the first Laker dynasty. "The system transcends the ability. I think our Lakers team in the '80s was a lot deeper and more talented. But take Shaq's dominance and Kobe's versatility, and add an X-factor--the system--you have something special. What Phil has put in--the way they balance the floor and have everyone ready to shoot--you see the system is just as important as the greatness of the players."

A pause. "But I think our '87 team was better," he added.

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