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Miami Treats Shaq Like President

It was quite the arrival.

There were the 3,000 or so screaming fans. The fleet of television trucks. The swarm of news helicopters overhead. The giant key to the City of Miami awaiting at the end of the red carpet. The three-story banner hanging from his new home. The police escort of the massive 18-wheeler that carried him into the chaos.

It was so much, you'd have a hard time believing it if you heard about it. Or if you couldn't turn on the TV and see it unfold on one of eight different channels.

It all would have been too much, really - if it had been for anyone else.

But this was different. This was, well, huge.

This was Shaquille O'Neal.

And this was his introduction to Miami.

Welcome to the Love, Shaq.

The Miami HEAT threw a block party Tuesday afternoon to welcome the arrival of easily the biggest star in franchise history, and the towering, imposing, grinning giant at the heart of the celebration did what he seemingly always does.

He seized the moment. And he dominated.

Upon emerging from the semi emblazoned with the words "Diesel Power" and his world-famous face, the 11-time NBA All-Star took all that love and tossed it right back at South Florida. He playfully doused fans with a plastic water cannon. He "modeled" an honorary guayabara. He guaranteed the HEAT would win its first-ever NBA title.

And that was just the first 10 minutes of the show.

O'Neal's outsized personality transcends basketball, spilling out into movies, music, commercials, community work and comedy.

Yes, comedy. And we're not talking about "Kazaam."

HEAT President Pat Riley said that he felt "absolutely blessed," hailing the three-time NBA Champion as "the most talented, dominant player in the NBA."

But when O'Neal strode to the podium on the floor of AmericanAirlines Arena, he proved that he might also be so much more.

The most engaging player. The most self-assured player. And, without a doubt, the funniest player.

The routine began with an impersonation of HEAT coach Stan Van Gundy's frantic sideline demeanor, and ended with a huge media contingent wondering what had just hit them.

They knew they were meeting The Diesel. The Big Daddy. The Most Dominant Ever. The Big Aristotle.

But The Big Nudist?

"I just brought a house on the beach, and my wife likes me to walk naked on the beach," O'Neal said. "I'm going to be in very, very top physical shape."

He certainly looked fitter than the man who led the Los Angeles Lakers to three NBA titles in the past five seasons, and he claimed his weight is down to 340 pounds and his body fat reduced to 15 percent.

But, more importantly, he looked and sounded like something else.

The Diesel appeared fueled. And ready to drive the HEAT to places they have never been before.

"I'm not angry," said O'Neal, whose bitter breakup with the Lakers has been thoroughly document, dissected and discussed since L.A.'s five-game Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons in June. "I'm very motivated. When I met with Pat Riley, he wanted me to come down here and do one thing, and that's take care of business. I assured him that I will do that. People that know me what time it is and they know what the Diesel is coming to do. Period.

"I'm coming back mean as ever and I'm coming back determined as ever."

The Big Trade Target said he had "a lot of options," but in the end, he chose Miami. And, he insists, it wasn't because of the beaches.

"Miami was one of my choices for one reason and one reason only," said O'Neal. "They didn't have a lot of talent on that team, but they had a great team. I saw that they played good together. I saw that the guys got along together. I saw that they were a great team and I just wanted to be a part of a team. Because I know in basketball you can't do it by yourself no matter how great you are."

O'Neal is definitely great. In 12 seasons, he has averaged 27.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.6 blocks per game. He has won three NBA Finals MVPs. He has made the All-Star team in all but one season. He has been named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He has won an Olympic Gold Medal and a World Championship.

So the HEAT becomes, without question, his team. Or does it?

"I'm glad to be here and I know you guys are probably going to start talking about whose team it is," said O'Neal. "I'm letting you know now it's Dwyane Wade's team. He's that type of guard who can lead us and do great things. I'm just his big brother and I'm just here to back him up."

The pairing of O'Neal and dynamic second-year guard Wade has NBA executives, players and observers anticipating great things for the HEAT, who have not had a devastating inside-outside attack since the days of Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

But when O'Neal lavished high praise on his new teammate, it meant so much more. It meant that anything is possible with the new-look HEAT.

"Dwyane Wade showed me some things [last year]," said O'Neal. This team showed me some things. I just think we're one or two pieces away. We got a big piece here now."

That piece is certainly big, but many have said it might have become too big. And too old. Questions about O'Neal's conditioning and arthritic big toe have only been rivaled by those about his age, but both O'Neal himself and team executives insist that the 32-year-old Diesel still has major mileage left.

"As I got older, I got better," said O'Neal. "I came in at 285 with one or two percent body fat and I always got tired out. The older I got, I obtained more knowledge. I've just gotten better. Yes, I'm 32, I'm getting old, but I still got five, six, seven, eight, nine or 10 more years left."

"This guy has been a pretty durable guy," said Van Gundy. "He gets up and down the floor. He plays big minutes. I mean, this isn't a guy who is limited to 30, 32 minutes a game. He'll play, when he has to, 40, 42 minutes a game. Where is the conditioning problem?"

"He had one of the best physicals that any player has ever had that we've traded for," said Riley. "He's had, obviously, some injuries. But he came back with as clean a bill of health as you can. He wants to play a lot longer. And I know that he knows that he has to take care of himself. We will leave that alone."

O'Neal doesn't like to be alone in anything, and in his role as The Big Recruiter, he will need to do everything in his power to lure additional talent to the HEAT. The franchise gained a major piece to its puzzle in acquiring O'Neal, but it had to give up three starters and a future first-round draft pick to do so.

Not to worry, says O'Neal.

"I've spoken to Coach Riley and Coach Van Gundy and they've already done a beautiful job of recruiting," he said. "Whatever help they need from me to bring some more pieces here, they can get that."

No matter what those pieces turn out to be, one thing is for sure:

The HEAT has never burned brighter.

"Here, he can start something fresh himself," said Riley. "He knows how genuine we are. He's seeing it - this display of enthusiasm on the part of the media and the fans and an organization that wants to embrace him. So I think he's going to embrace this city. And I think he's looking forward to that."

"When I was rolling up, I was telling my wife that I felt like the president," said O'Neal. "It was great. I really didn't expect any of this. It's going to be a great time here."

Isiah wants New York Knicks to win now.

By InsideHoops.com

New York Knicks General Manager Isiah Thomas wants the team to win every game possible, whether it's preseason or regular season. The idea is to reestablish a winning tradition in the Garden. To win fans back and have a hot team.

"Winning is not a sometimes thing, it is an all the time thing," Thomas said to the New York Daily news and other media yesterday. "You don't do things right every once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit and unfortunately so is losing. That comes from Vince Lombardi. I wish I could take credit for that ... but I'm adapting that."

It's quite possible that the Knicks finish the season with a winning record. In the newly realigned NBA, they're in an extremely weak division -- the Atlantic. With New York are the Boston Celtics, New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors. All five teams have question marks, but with last year's "success" and summer roster changes, the Knicks have the edge. Boston added an old Gary Payton and lots of nice rookies. New Jersey dumped half their team and is rebuilding. Philadelphia is experimenting with Allen Iverson at point guard, will enjoy a healthy Glenn Robinson, emerging frontcourt talent, and added an athletic rookie in Andre Iguodala. Eric Snow is gone, but they've got potential to surprise. And Toronto has last year's team plus badly needed health, and a big rookie center.

The Atlantic is wide open. Other than New Jersey, each team has a shot to win the division.

The Knicks are hoping Allan Houston will eventually return to previous all-star form. Right now, his knee isn't ready. "Making progress, and it feels good," Houston said to the New York Times. "But right now I'm still at the point where I just don't want to go all out."

Fortunately, with new Knick Jamal Crawford on board, Houston can take his time. Crawford hasn't been on winning teams, but he also hasn't played next to someone like Stephon Marbury. On the negative side, the knock on both players is that they don't tend to make teammates better. But the good news is, both players are already big-time scorers. Crawford's field goal percentage could use some help, but he's definitely got the ability to bump it up. In today's NBA, if a team has a few guys who can put 20 points up, they have potential to at least get a round or two into the playoffs. Also in New York's backcourt, a healthy, focused Penny Hardaway will help. He isn't athletic like he used to be, but with his experience comes smart play that can help a squad win.

In New York's frontcourt, there's good news in the form of second year power forward Mike Sweetney. "Sweets" has looked excellent. He's in better shape than last season, and with help from Knicks assistant Mark AcGuirre Sweetney has added NBA-ready offensive moves. While Kurt Thomas is expected to continue starting at power forward, Sweetney could someday take over. And even without a starting job, Sweetney will get plenty of minutes and time with the ball.

Athletic small forward Tim Thomas hopes to take his game to another level this season. People have been waiting for Tim to do that for many years now. But with defenders' attention focused on the Knicks backcourt, less attention should be on Thomas, so perhaps he can use that to his advantage and step everything up. Last season we saw plenty of impressive offensive outputs from him. Consistency will help.

The center spot isn't pretty. Nazr Mohammed wins the starting position by default; because he's big. Vin Baker will back him up. If anything special comes from either player, it'll be a bonus. Mohammed will be counted on to defend and rebound. Baker is needed for additional offense.

The Knicks should be good enough this season to stir up some excitement in Madison Square Garden. At the very least, that's an improvement over the situation just one year ago.


Karl Malone Pays a Visit to The LA Lakers

By Mike Bresnahan

San Diego - Lakers Owner Jerry Buss saw Karl Malone arrive at Laker practice and immediately moved from one end of the arena to the other to sit next to his former power forward. Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, showing similar hospitality, said he would be "rolling out the red carpet," if Malone decided to return to the Lakers, wh ich Malone did for a day, in a sense. He arrived as a spectator toward the end of Saturday's practice, wearing a Basketball cap, white polo shirt, jeans and high-tops. Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak told Malone to throw on a practice jersey and hit the floor. He appeared to be only half-joking. Malone, 41, might never play again. He is recovering from knee surgery and mulling retirement, but he looked healthy and sturdy and was greeted warmly by players and Laker personnel. He sat and talked with Buss for several minutes and was hugged by Tomjanovich after practice ended. Kobe Bryant and Malone also embraced, and Bryant pretended to spar with Malone's son, Karl, Jr. Malone felt Bryant's biceps -- Bryant has g ained 12 pounds since last season -- and they shared a private laugh. Malone shooed away reporters =E2=80=94 "I ain't doing nothing -- tal k to the guys that are doing something right now," he said -- but his presence was the main event at Jenny Craig Pavilion. Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, said before training camp that Malone was no= t fully recovered from knee surgery and was moving in a "retirement-bound" direction. If Malone decides to come back, however, it would be with the Lakers, Manley said. Malone's knee is less than two months from a complete recovery, during whic h time the second-leading scorer in NBA history will see how much he misses the game that has kept him busy the last 19 years. Malone has been offered an unspecified job with the Lakers if he decides to retire. Malone's appearance was simply a one-day visit, Kupchak said. "It's not really a sign one way or the other," he said. "We expected him t o come today. A week or two ago, Jerry and he met, and they kind of talked about coming to practice today. It's just a visit. It's not a bad sign, b ut I wouldn't say it's an indication of anything he's thinking of doing." Kupchak was not surprised that Malone looked so robust. "I've never seen him when he didn't look great," Kupchak said. "I told him to go over there and pick up a bag [of practice uniforms] and get dressed a nd he said, 'I'm not in basketball shape right now.' "He may think he's not in great shape, but he looks pretty good to me." After 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz, Malone averaged 13.2 points and 8.7 rebounds last season with the Lakers. Despite undergoing surgery in July, he was wooed by a host of contenders, among them the Minnesota Timberwolves, S an Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. Malone has committed to play for the Lakers, if he returns, but he will continue to be recruited by a group of familiar faces. "I'm definitely going to see where he's going while he's down this way," Laker forward Devean George said. "We're going to try to soak him up, hold on to him as long as we can before he gets away." Notes: Center Chris Mihm was elbowed in the right ear during practice and temporarily lost hearing, but he continued to play.

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