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LAKER REPORT

Uproar Surprised O'Neal

January 19, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

After he had cleaned himself up and pulled a black leather cap over his head and sat down before dozens of reporters, Shaquille O'Neal looked back over one of the more interesting weeks in an interesting life.

He hated large parts of it, of course, because first he had been called a racist, and then there was this towering rookie to deal with, 7-foot-5 Yao Ming, who's all torso, and fearless, as it turned out.

Still, it appeared that O'Neal had enjoyed the time on the floor, his stepfather cheering from a chair just behind the Laker bench.

Late Friday night in Houston, he spoke at length for the first time since his apology, the one that bounced from sincere to impatient and back, the one that Yao graciously accepted, and that some in the Chinese community apparently did not.

O'Neal had some things to get off his chest.

"It's just unfortunate that an idiot writer would try to start a racial war when there's really nothing there," he said quietly. "I said a joke. Maybe it was funny, maybe it wasn't funny. I already apologized. But an idiot writer from a small paper started it and I'm surprised that some of you big guys, rather than just sticking to the facts, that you jumped on the bandwagon. So I'm disappointed in some of you media people for that. And that's why sometimes I don't talk to you. Because, if you're going to be a writer, sit your [butt] down and write. Don't make [stuff] up and don't try to start nothing."

Ultimately, O'Neal said, "I'm going to do what's good for the game. Because of what I said, 500 million people saw this game today. So, therefore, I think some of you writers need to learn my marketing skills. He's a nice guy. He's a classy guy. I have nothing against him. I know what to do to sell tickets.

"I have no enemies. I'm all about peace."

Many would argue his tactics. As it was, the game, a 108-104 overtime victory for the Rockets, and the matchup of O'Neal versus Yao, might have sold themselves.

*

Yao, on why O'Neal didn't come to his place for dinner on Thursday night: "I don't think our refrigerator is big enough."

*

The Lakers and Rockets play again Feb. 18 at Staples Center.

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