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Heat celebrate Shaq’s impact ahead of jersey retirement

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade still remembers when he initially heard the rumor that Shaquille O’Neal was coming to the Miami Heat, and how his first reaction was disbelief.

And then came the 18-wheeler that carried O’Neal to his arrival in Miami, as he happily fired a squirt gun at throngs of screaming fans.

“We had a vision to be a championship team,” Wade told The Associated Press on Wednesday, “but it wasn’t for real for real until Big Fella came and pulled up on that truck.”

A grand celebration was had on that day in July 2004, the franchise’s first of three NBA championships followed two years later, and the Heat will give O’Neal their version of an ultimate thank-you on Thursday night when they raise his No. 32 banner to the rafters. He will be the third Heat player to get such an honor, joining only Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

“I said `I promise I’m going to bring a championship here,”‘ O’Neal said. “And we did.”

Fittingly, the Heat will fete O’Neal at halftime of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers – who have also retired his number.

“He changed the direction of our team,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “He brought an absolute legitimacy to our franchise. And when we won the championship I think it sort of took us over the top. He deserves to be honored by having his number hanging from the rafters. It’s not just out of respect. It’s because of what he did for us.”

The NBA is permitting a longer-than-usual halftime for the ceremony, in which Riley and O’Neal will be among the speakers. O’Neal won his first three titles with the Lakers, then got his fourth in Miami to make good on the promise he made when he stepped out of that truck to deliver a championship to Heat fans.

And, in a nod to that infamous arrival, the Heat will have an 18-wheeler bearing the “Diesel Power” artwork that greeted him 12 years ago at the arena.

“Big Fella in Miami changed everything,” said Wade, who’s now with the Chicago Bulls but will one day have his jersey hanging next to O’Neal’s in Miami. “Changed everything for everyone.”

O’Neal appeared in 205 regular-season games over parts of four seasons with Miami, averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds. But his impact stretched well beyond stats; he helped turn Heat games into events, and did so while not impeding Wade’s rapid rise to superstardom.

There were some well-documented troubles along the way. When Stan Van Gundy stepped down as coach in 2005, part of that decision was believed to be related to his relationship with O’Neal. And when the Heat traded him to Phoenix in 2008, O’Neal blasted Miami’s personnel – including guard Chris Quinn – along with the team’s medical and athletic training staffs.

Quinn is now an assistant coach with the Heat. And O’Neal’s jersey banner will sway next to one for Ron Culp, a revered figure in Heat history and the team’s athletic trainer from 1988 through 2008.

“It was not personal,” Riley said. “Shaq was impeccable with his word. He came down here and said `We’re gonna win a title, Coach.’ And we won a title. … No hard feelings, at all. I’m an Irishman and I forgive.”

So with that, all is forgotten, all is forgiven.

“Next to Dwyane, I’d have to say he’s probably the best teammate I ever had,” Heat captain Udonis Haslem said. “Just showing us how this NBA life works, how you can have fun and enjoy it but stay out of trouble and win games. He put so much confidence in his teammates. He really was the great Shaquille O’Neal.”

Haslem was a second-year undrafted player when O’Neal arrived, and remembers hearing that an undersized power forward like himself wasn’t the sort that would work well with a still-dominant center.

O’Neal let Haslem know right away to ignore such talk. Haslem wound up playing a huge role in Miami’s 2006 NBA Finals victory, and is still so revered by O’Neal that he wants him to join in the ovations from the crowd on Thursday night.

“The first thing when I got with Big Fella, he said, `I’ve been watching you, I like your work ethic and I can win with you,”‘ Haslem said. “A player like that has confidence in you, how could I ever question that?”

Celtics: Romeo Langford out rest of playoffs after wrist surgery

Celtics guard Romeo Langford
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The Celtics don’t have quite enough dependable players to fill a playoff rotation. So, beyond its core, Boston has juggled deep-bench minutes throughout the postseason.

One of those options – Romeo Langford – will no longer be available.

Celtics release:

Celtics guard Romeo Langford this morning underwent successful surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament in his right wrist. He will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 NBA season.

A rookie, Langford also suffered a right-hand injury last season at Indiana. A pattern? Probably not. But it’s another interruption in the 20-year-old’s development.

For Boston’s playoff hopes, this is a minor setback – one made even smaller by Gordon Hayward returning (and staying). Though more of a forward, Hayward clears the way for Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart to handle more guard minutes, a few of which could have gone to Langford.

Adam Silver: It’s on U.S. government whether American companies, like NBA, operate in China

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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Politicians have repeatedly criticized the NBA for its involvement in China.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is defending his league.

Sopan Deb of The New York Times:

Senators have power to affect the United State’s foreign policy, including where American companies are permitted to operate. The NBA shouldn’t face unique scrutiny for acting like a business, seeking to maximize profit, within legal parameters.

Silver is generally right: There is value in exposing American values to countries with authoritarian regimes. Basketball can be a good vehicle for doing so. Those connections can inspire change for the better.

But the league has repeatedly failed to uphold American values it espouses in its dealings in China. That warrants criticism and leaves Silver’s response quite lacking.

Adam Silver: Next NBA season will likely start in 2021

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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The NBA said next season would begin on Christmas at the earliest.

But get it straight: That’s a best-case scenario.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, via CNN:

My best guess is that – even though, as you said, it will be the 2020-21 season – is that season won’t start until 21. We said a week or so ago that the earliest we’d start is Christmas of this year, but the more I’m learning – even listening to Dr. Fauci this morning – I continue to believe that we’re going to be better off getting into January. The goal for us next season is to play a standard season – the other part of your question – 82-game season and playoffs. And further, the goal would be to play games in home arenas in front of fans. But there’s still a lot that we need to learn in terms of rapid testing, for example. Would that be a means of getting fans into our buildings?

February seems like a reasonable expectation. But so much is changing with our handling of coronavirus. Predictions are weak at this stage.

Of course, the NBA wants to play a full 82-game season with fans at arenas. That’s how to most directly maximize revenue.

But when will it be safe for fans to attend games? How long will owners and players be content to wait while making practically no revenue? At some point, will it be better to play games and draw some revenue?

Assuming next season begins on a date the NBA doesn’t want to use as its start date going forward, how will the league get its annual calendar back on track if not reducing the schedule length? Fewer off days? Shorter offseason?

Like with many things, coronavirus creates many difficult complications.

The time Shaquille O’Neal slapped Kobe Bryant

Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal
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Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant fighting is stuff of legend in their highly productive (three championships!) and oftentumultuous relationship.

Now, that incident during the 1999 lockout is getting detailed like never before.

Jeff Pearlman’s “Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty,” via ESPN:

On one particular day, both O’Neal and Bryant arrived at Southwest College, ready to play. It was the first week of January, not long after the Kobe-is-the-next-Jordan piece ran in L.A. Magazine. Some other Lakers were in attendance, as was Olden Polynice, the veteran center who’d spent the preceding four and a half seasons with Sacramento. He was hoping the Lakers would sign him to a free agent contract, and had been told that Mitch Kupchak, the team’s general manager, was planning on showing up. Though they’d battled for years, Polynice and O’Neal enjoyed a friendly relationship. “All I wanted to do was go there and play with Shaq,” Polynice recalled. “The Lakers were my favorite team as a boy. It would have been a dream. I wanted to show Mitch I was serious.”

The players straggled in, loosened up, stretched, shot some jumpers. They proceeded to divide into teams — some guys over here, some guys over there. O’Neal and Polynice — dueling 7-footers — were on different sides. “Kobe was on my squad,” Polynice recalled. “Opposite Shaq.”

It was just another run, until it was no longer just another run. As he was prone to do in pickup, O’Neal called a series of iffy fouls whenever he missed a shot.

Miss.

“Foul!”

Miss.

“Foul!”

“I’m tired of this s—,” Bryant finally said. “Just play.”

“One more comment like that,” O’Neal snapped, “and I slap the s— out of you.”

A few possessions later, Bryant drove toward the rim, leaned into O’Neal’s body, and scooped the ball beneath his raised arm and into the hoop. It was a pretty move, but nothing otherworldly.

“F— you!” he screamed at O’Neal. “This is my team! My motherf—ing team!”

It felt edgy. Everything stopped. “He wasn’t talking about the pickup team,” Polynice recalled. “He was talking about the Lakers.”

O’Neal wasn’t having it. “No, motherf—er!” he screamed. “This is my team!”

“F— you!” Bryant replied. “Seriously — f— you! You’re not a leader. You’re nothing!”

What did he just say?

“I will get your ass traded,” O’Neal said. “Not a problem.”

Several of the participants stepped in to separate the two, and the game eventually continued. But it no longer felt even slightly relaxed or friendly. “We probably went up and down the court two more times,” Polynice said. “Kobe goes to the basket, scores, screams at Shaq, ‘Yeah, motherf—er! That s— ain’t gonna stop me!'”

O’Neal grabbed the ball in order to freeze action.

“Say another motherf—ing word,” he said, staring directly at Bryant.

“Aw, f— you,” Bryant said. “You don’t kn–”

Smack!

O’Neal slapped Bryant across the face. Hard.

“His hands are huge,” said Blount, who was playing in the game. “The noise was loud.”

Here is Polynice’s recollection: “Then Shaq swung again at Kobe, but he missed. S—! I run over and grab Shaq, because I’m big enough to do so. And Shaq keeps swinging, but everything’s missing because I have his arms. I’m grabbing on to Shaq, holding on for dear life, yelling, ‘Somebody grab Kobe! Seriously — somebody grab him!’ Because I’m holding Shaq and Kobe’s taking swings at him. At one point Shaq gets an arm loose and he pops me in the head. Seriously, no good deed goes unpunished. And I’m telling you, if Shaq gets loose he would have killed Kobe Bryant. I am not exaggerating. It was along the lines of an I-want-to-kill-you-right-now punch. He wanted to end Kobe’s life in that moment.”

Bryant was undeterred. “You’re soft!” he barked. “Is that all you’ve got? You’re soft!” Blount begged Bryant to stop talking. “You’re not helping,” he said. “Just shut up.” The altercation was finally broken up when Jerome Crawford, O’Neal’s bodyguard, walked onto the floor and calmed his friend down. O’Neal was furious. “You can’t touch him in practice,” he wrote of Bryant. “He’s acting like Jordan, where some players thought you couldn’t touch Mike. Whenever somebody ripped Kobe, he’d call a foul. After a while, I’m like, ‘Listen, man, you don’t have to start calling that punk s—.'” As he walked from the court, Polynice looked at a shaken Kupchak and said, loudly, “You should sign me just for that.”

This book sounds good. Even the extended excerpt is compelling. What a closing line from Olden Polynice.

Bryant said that fight brought O’Neal’s respect. Of course, they still had their differences. But they won through their squabbling. That commitment to team success and the success itself have endured.