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Madden: Shaq, Kobe form a classless act

Saturday, January 13, 2001

Showtime is now a clown act. But, sadly, the war between Shaq and Kobe (do we really need last names?) for control of the Los Angeles Lakers typifies the attitude of pro sports stars these days.

I was under the impression that the Lakers belonged to Dr. Jerry Buss -- he o-o-owns the Lakers, as Denis Lemieux said in "Slap Shot" -- but Shaq and Kobe each wants the Lakers to be his team.

Shaq, the NBA MVP last season, figures he has paid his dues. He wants the rock -- meaning, I think, that he would prefer the ball be passed to him. Shaq recently uttered some metaphor about "feeding the dog," but I'm not one of the Baja Men, so I didn't get it. Suffice it to say that if Shaq isn't the centerpiece of the Lakers' attack, he'll basically refuse to play defense. Which he often does anyway.

Check out this Shaq quote: "I don't have to co-exist with anyone." Try playing a game one-on-five, then say that. Shaq calls himself the "Big Aristotle," making him the first Aristotle known for stupidity. Oh, and for terrible free-throw shooting.

Kobe points out that Shaq never won an NBA championship until he got there. Shaq hates Kobe for saying that, mostly because he's right. Kobe is the NBA scoring leader, which means he's infringing on Shaq's turf. Shaq has reportedly instigated a freeze-out of Kobe on several occasions, coercing his Lakers teammates into denying Kobe the rock, er, ball. O'Neal even asked to be traded recently.

That's sports' new millennium-style: Winning and losing doesn't matter. It's all about being DA MAN. It's all about making the team yours -- which kind of flies in the face of the definition of the word "team," but no matter. You redefine things when you're DA MAN.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is visibly embarrassed by this. Zen Phil, of course, had few problems with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen co-existing during the Chicago Bulls' dynasty. Jackson calls the Shaq-Kobe feud "juvenile stuff, sandbox stuff," and he's right. Dissing the stars leads to dismissal, but Phil has a great track record, so he'll be OK.

The Lakers' franchise is embarrassed by all this. This is the same club that saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson maximize each other's talents for years. Kareem and Magic never clashed, not on any serious level. They just won.

Is it any wonder our young athletes are screwed up? Shaq and Kobe are two of the most visible, popular people in America. Fine example they set. I would hate to be a high school basketball coach with two star-caliber players right now. "Hey, coach, I gotta make Riverdale High my team!"

Face it, Shaq and Kobe are just a couple of jerks. They give single-name celebrities a bad rap -- and Shaq, don't forget, is no stranger to bad rap. Pele was always a team player. Madonna, too. Shaq and Kobe are in a situation athletes should want to kill for. They could win championship after championship, reeling in all the individual glory (and money) that accompanies championships.

But that's not enough. It doesn't compare to being DA MAN.

We're lucky here in Pittsburgh. For one thing, we don't have an NBA team, although I'm properly terrified by reports that the Charlotte Hornets have inquired about moving to Pittsburgh. Jamal Mashburn is DA MAN on that team. Yeah, he'd sell plenty of tickets here.

But Pittsburgh also is lucky to have a primo example of how two superstars can not only co-exist, but help each other flourish. I'm referring to Mario and Jags. No full names necessary there, either. Mario and Jags not only play hockey together in civil fashion, but each makes the other better and each glories in the other's feats. Heck, it wasn't all that long ago that another star, Ron Francis, was stirred into that mix, and there was no problem then, either.

That's what happens when you have class individuals. You get a class act.

Shaq and Kobe are on the NBA champions, but they're still not happy. That unhappiness is beginning to open cracks in the Lakers' facade. No one should come close to challenging El Lay for the NBA title, but the competition for the ball between Shaq and Kobe is pulling the team apart. As a result, the Lakers are 23-11, hardly overwhelming for their talent level, and third in the Pacific Division.

Good. I hate pro basketball, so anything that makes it looks stupid is OK by me.

But Shaq and Kobe are a disgrace by the standards of any sport. From now on, they're just O'Neal and Bryant to me. Each wants the Lakers to be his team. As a result, the Lakers will underachieve. They will not win a second consecutive NBA crown. That's a lock.

Maybe someday O'Neal and Bryant will look back and realize how stupid they looked. Maybe they'll realize what an opportunity they blew.

But I doubt it. Doing that would require maturity. And maturity is a concept that likely will remain foreign to O'Neal and Bryant.

Mark Madden hosts a sports talk show 4-8 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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