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  Wed, October 29, 2003


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Burning in L.A.
Lakers win but Shaq vs. Kobe the hot topic

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

LOS ANGELES -- This party went up in smoke.

Some of the stinky atmosphere came from the deadly blazes that have engulfed Southern California. But a lot of the gritty air came from Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, who have been breathing fire.

The Los Angeles Lakers' NBA season-opener against the Dallas Mavericks at the Staples Center last night was supposed to be a feel-good, life-affirming affair for the home team. The proud Lakers were looking to show off their Hall of Fame lineup that now includes Karl Malone and Gary Payton as well as Bryant and O'Neal. And Lakers fans were set to embrace and coddle Bryant, who as we all know is facing rape charges in Eagle County, Colo.

But despite the Lakers' 109-93 win, the buzz was not L.A. versus Dallas, but Shaq versus Kobe.

Shaq scored a pedestrian 16 points and actually heard a few boos early on. Kobe didn't dress -- allegedly because of soreness in his surgically repaired right knee rather than petulance -- but he received a huge ovation when he made an appearance on the bench in the second half.

Mavs coach Don Nelson correctly had predicted Bryant's absence might be a mixed blessing for the visitors.

"Maybe (the Lakers) will want to prove to the world that they don't need (Bryant)," Nelson said beforehand.

Long-term, of course, the Lakers do need Kobe and Shaq working at a functional, if not friendly, level.

"It was a love-fest last year and we lost the championship," injured Laker Rick Fox said. "When we didn't get along, we won three. You push stuff like this down, it poisons you."

Neither Kobe nor Shaq has been pushing anything down lately. A brief summary of the past few days:

Shaq said Kobe should be more of a pass-first, shoot-less player till he gets into shape. Kobe said Shaq should keep his advice to himself. Shaq said the Lakers were his team and if Kobe doesn't like it, he can leave next summer.

Lakers officials met separately with Shaq and Kobe on Monday and they were asked to keep their spat private. Kobe apparently marched straight out of his meeting and mouthed off to ESPN's Jim Gray, accusing Shaq of being fat, unprofessional, selfish and a bad leader.

"(Shaq) is not my quote-unquote big brother," Bryant said. "A big brother would have called me up over the summer."

There are rumours Shaq may have left a couple of messages for Bryant after his legal woes began, but the calls went unreturned. Either way, neither player seemed very determined to speak with the other, which says a lot on its own.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson had no explanation yesterday when asked why Bryant thumbed his nose at the team's wishes so flagrantly. Jackson said Kobe will be fined for his loose lips (yeah, that'll work), but the coach also vaguely suggested Bryant did not speak directly to Gray, but to a third party who subsequently spoke to Gray.

"(The Bryant quotes) wouldn't stand up in a court of law," Jackson said.

Geez, Phil, don't say "Bryant" and "court of law" in the same sentence unless you're talking about you-know-what.

"Mr. Gray wanted to be a hero, Mr. Enquirer, as usual," was Shaq's odd explanation.

Both Kobe and Shaq, as well as a couple of other Lakers, addressed the team yesterday before the shootaround. When asked if Shaq was furious over Kobe's latest diatribe, Fox replied, "I've seen Shaq mad, and that wasn't it."

The timing of this controversy is notable, and it reveals a glaring degree of emotional combustibility on Bryant's part.

Shaq and Kobe have been under each other's skin many times before. Shaq started this round, but his initial comments about Kobe not being physically ready were tame by past standards. Kobe reacted defensively, and lashed out aggressively, which shows how much pressure he's under.

With everything that's going on in Kobe's life, he's just not in the mood to take any of Shaq's crap. Regardless, neither player has come out of this looking good.

"When half of L.A. is burning down," Fox said, "it seems pretty damn childish, doesn't it?"









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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