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COMMENTARY

Shaq is giving himself a bad rap

June 26, 2008|David Steele | Baltimore Sun

Full disclosure: When the first snippets surfaced of Shaquille O'Neal dogging Kobe Bryant onstage at a New York club, I laughed. The more I heard, the funnier and more absurd it got.

That reaction lasted a couple of minutes. It was just an instinctive reaction, a step ahead of conscious thought. Lots of things are funny in that first moment, right out of someone's mouth, before they're put into real context.

Context such as: Here's a 36-year-old father of six, a four-time NBA champion, past MVP and Olympic gold medalist, future Hall of Famer, marketing giant and prominent public figure, hollering obscenely into a mike in front of a room full of people about an ex-teammate he still can't stand, even though he swore years ago they'd patched things up.

Which brought on this reaction:

C'mon, Shaq. Isn't it time you started acting like a grown-up?

It's sad, actually. Especially since in all matters related to Shaq versus Kobe, I've always had both feet planted firmly in the Shaq camp. Nothing Kobe has done, including this season's MVP award and Finals trip, has changed the opinion here that he's the most selfish athlete in the history of organized team sports. He wrecked the Lakers dynasty. He used Shaq as a human shield when the cops in Colorado came calling that infamous summer (hence, the "rat" reference in Shaq's rap).

And in their dysfunctional relationship, Kobe always was the spoiled, petulant little boy. Shaq wasn't exactly Winston Churchill, but he always had the better argument, the more mature outlook, and -- no small factor, especially now -- the more genuine personality.

Now, thanks to one night of ill-advised spouting onstage, Shaq has leapt into Kobe's territory -- and made Kobe seem sympathetic, a victim of a cruel public verbal spanking.

Even if you put all the elements of that Shaqtacular outburst into perspective -- it's not as if he did this on "Meet the Press;" he was rapping in a club -- you still conclude that Shaq put his size 23s way over the line.

If he got a big chuckle out of his inner circle, and vicariously out of all the Kobe haters, the negatives far outweigh that. He should have foreseen them before he ever stepped onto the stage.

Doesn't Shaq care how it makes him look?

One of his larger failures in this case is that he lost sight of the line between being a big kid at heart and acting like one. Shaq has had his immature moments, without question. But on balance, Shaq has walked the line as well as it can be walked, and he has been rewarded for it. That's now at risk, all because he forgot where that line was.

The NBA won't come off well in this, because it never does. The league, however, shouldn't step in, nor should the Phoenix Suns. This is something that, all things considered, should be worked out between Shaq and Kobe.

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