Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Time Ripe for Shaq

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Time Ripe for Shaq

Article excerpt

Two years ago, Shaquille O'Neal played the lead role in the

movie Kazaam. It's about a genie who grants his pint-sized

master, Max, an assortment of wishes.

Now if only Shaq can get the one wish that would give his

basketball career a two-thumbs up -- leading the Los Angeles

Lakers to an NBA championship.

Better to do it now while Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls

are still in one piece because, as the Houston Rockets' title

teams of 1994 and '95 hate to admit, a championship ring carries

a lot more weight if you have to go through His Airness to get

it.

Can you think of a better way for a 7-foot-1, 315-pound center

to become a true giant in the eyes of his peers than to defeat

the Bulls in a breathtaking, seven-game NBA Finals? That'd do

more for O'Neal's image than any combination of a $120 million

contract, rap song or commercial endorsement could in a

lifetime.

It also would give the future-challenged NBA, sweating at the

prospect of life without Mike, a legitimate marketing force (the

"Shaqtime" Lakers) to take into the new millennium.

O'Neal has been widely criticized -- some much deserved, some

not -- for putting too much priority on fame and fortune and not

enough on winning championships.

A Rookie of the Year award, a scoring title and leading the

Orlando Magic to the 1995 Finals have done nothing to take the

focus off O'Neal's abysmal free-throw shooting percentage. Or

that he lacks the overall game and leadership qualities to turn

L.A. back into Titletown.

Until he wins it all, O'Neal, like every dominant big man in

NBA history before him, will be remembered more for what he

didn't accomplish in a team context than for what he did as an

individual.

But what's easily forgotten in all these Shaq attacks is that

he's only 26 years old. This is just his sixth NBA season. The

Bulls didn't win the first of their five titles until Jordan was

28 and in his seventh season.

Watching the ebb and flow of these playoffs, the consensus is

that the Bulls will repeat the three-peat. The only real

suspense is whether the front-office tag team of Jerry and Jerry

can keep this team of fractured egos together for another title

run next season. …

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