The Big Host is having a Big Weekend.
Laker center Shaquille O'Neal's size 22s have been all over Los Angeles during the NBA All-Star festivities. Parties with corporate sponsors. Parties at the Playboy mansion. Oh, and the occasional basketball practice with his Western Conference All-Star teammates.
But the 11-time All-Star (this year a reserve behind West starting center Yao Ming) has never before had the game and its kaleidoscope madness in the city where he plays. Orlando, where O'Neal played his first four NBA seasons, last hosted the All-Star game in 1992, just ahead of O'Neal's arrival. And Los Angeles last hosted the All-Star game in 1983.
So O'Neal has been involved with as many activities as he could find time for. On Saturday morning inside the Los Angeles Convention Center he played host to the Nestle Crunch Hot Shots competition, in which the winner got a spot at a summer basketball camp.
Ten contestants -- eight boys, two girls -- were given one minute to display their dribbling and shooting skills before judges O'Neal, television "street ball" stars Sik Wit It (Robin Kennedy) and "The Professa" (Grayson Boucher) and nationally known AAU basketball coach Boo Williams. They also got the chance to go one-on-one with Shaq, primarily for mugging-for-the-camera purposes.
Jerry Devon Jefferson, 17, who plays for the Lynwood High varsity team, used a series of explosive dunk shots to win the competition.
"I feel like an ambassador [this weekend]," O'Neal said. "I wanted to give people a good show, on and off the court. Had a party for [General Motors] on Thursday, [rappers] Busta Rhymes and Public Enemy showed up. Had a party Friday at the Playboy mansion -- everybody showed up."
Will he have any energy left to play today? "Hopefully. I'll play a couple of minutes, and if I'm feeling good, I may do a couple of things to let the crowd know I'm there. I'm not gonna try and do too much. But if I hit a couple of shots and the game's going good ... I may try to grab that MVP award."
If nothing else, the weekend has given O'Neal a moment's respite from all the attention -- good and bad -- that has surrounded the Lakers this season. No one in the crowd (except for the media) wanted to ask about Kobe Bryant's possibly leaving, Phil Jackson's contract or Karl Malone's injury. And O'Neal wasn't going to talk about those things here.
"The things we're going through, being L.A., is minor compared to other stuff," O'Neal said.
O'Neal didn't elaborate on what that other stuff was. There was another event to go to.