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Mark Heisler / ON THE NBA

For now, the rivalry is about basketball

May 27, 2008|Mark Heisler

SAN ANTONIO -- Good times, bad times, you know they've had their share. . . .

For the Lakers, it's always one or the other here, like Derek Fisher's shot with 0.4 of a second left in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals, now memorialized back home on T-shirts ("One Lucky Shot Deserves Another") . . . or Sunday's Game 3 when the San Antonio Spurs, who were supposedly Over, turned the Lakers, who were supposedly Next, every which way but loose.

When the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant teams lost here, you could almost feel the ground tremble beneath your feet.

And that was just at their practices, since they were often warring with each other as well as the Spurs.

O'Neal attended Cole High here, feuded with David Robinson over an autograph he didn't get, bristled at the hostile reception he received in his hometown and took everything here personally.

So, it was often less like basketball and more like opera, be it grand or soap.

"It was always personal to him beyond what was supposed to have happened between he and David as a kid," Fisher says of O'Neal.

"I think it was more so his place in history among the best big men ever to play the game.

"So whenever we would face the Spurs, he was facing Tim Duncan, who even at a young age was very obviously going to be one of the best ever to play, and David Robinson.

"I think it was important to him to slay both of them. So he would get extremely worked up when we would play the Spurs -- almost too worked up where it would impact his game."

When these teams met back then, you could see the entire rivalry or rivalries play out -- O'Neal versus Bryant, Lakers versus Spurs.

O'Neal complained about Bryant's shots when the Lakers lost and anointed him as the game's best player when they won.

After a loss here in the 1999 series in which the Lakers were swept, O'Neal kicked over the TV set in their dressing room, destroying it.

Shaq even started after Coach Phil Jackson during a timeout in a second-round series in 2002 -- which the Lakers won -- looking menacing enough for assistant coach Brian Shaw, then a teammate, to jump between them.

A year later in the second-round series the Lakers lost to the Spurs, Shaw jumped between O'Neal and Devean George and wound up going at it with Shaq.

"One of the games we lost, Malik Rose killed us on the offensive boards and Shaq and Devean George actually got into it in the locker room," Shaw says.

"I got into it with Devean because Shaq was kind of picking on Devean and not taking responsibility. . . . I said, 'If you use the same energy on Malik Rose, boxing out instead of blaming Devean -- and he's not even playing a whole lot to make this kind of difference -- we wouldn't have lost this game.'

"Shaq and Devean had gotten into a physical confrontation and then when I stepped in, it turned into a physical confrontation between Shaq and I.

"So I ended up having skinned-up knees. We ended up wrestling and he kind of dragged me around on the rug."

Happily for the Lakers, these days when they play the Spurs, it's just the Lakers versus the Spurs.

"I think our teams before, we carried all of the superstar, rock star, biggest team on Earth stuff," Fisher says. "This team, we aren't at that level, so we don't have to worry about that stuff much. . . .

"We're just playing basketball. If we can finish this thing out and do what we're supposed to do, success often breeds some of the things that we're talking about that happened in the past.

"So that's what will be curious. That's why the Spurs have always been so good, because they've been able to be successful and still keep that same appreciation and humility that I think is necessary to replicate success."

Whether a return to histrionics lies ahead for the Lakers remains to be seen.

For the moment they would just like to have the success and take their chances.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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