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The Long, Tall Days of Shaq

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Resting contentedly at the bottom of a pool, cut off from the demands of his job and his stardom, Shaquille O’Neal looks remarkably small.

Well, better make that regular-sized.

But then he comes up for air, climbs out of the pool at L.A. Southwest College, where the Los Angeles Lakers practice, and suddenly it’s Shaq again--all 7 feet of him, dripping wet and smiling.

It’s a summertime look, one that suits him. There are big-time athletes who have trouble with the downtime of off-seasons, finding it difficult to confront life without the competition that for them is a constant way of life.

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But O’Neal looks ahead to his summer and doesn’t seem daunted.

“If I wanna go to Hawaii and scuba dive I can do that,” he says. “If I wanna ride my Harley around, I can do that.

“But basically,” he says, “I do the same things I do during the season.”

That includes hanging out at one of his three L.A.-area residences--a 20,000-square-foot Beverly Hills house, a house in Manhattan Beach and a luxury condo in a high-rise building on the Westside. It includes seeing family (his parents, Phillip and Lucille Harrison, live in Orlando, and his 2-year-old daughter, Taahirah, lives in Houston) and checking out lots of movies.

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Lots and lots of movies. “Whoever invented DSS [the Digital Satellite System], my hat’s off to them,” O’Neal says in admiration.

O’Neal may be a movie hound (“I like scary movies or just really crazy movies”), but he works off the time spent on the couch at Billy Blank’s World of Karate in Sherman Oaks, the gym run by the high-kicking star of such action films as “Expect No Mercy” and “Tough and Deadly.”

If he goes out at night, O’Neal might head to the Shark Bar in West Hollywood, the Century Club in Century City or Gladstone’s in Malibu.

When it comes to eating, O’Neal, who says he’s sworn off a bad habit--daily visits to McDonald’s--is under the guidance of one Thomas Gosney.

O’Neal says the two met in Florida, when he was playing for the Orlando Magic. Gosney was a chef at the Orlando Hyatt, and O’Neal was apparently so taken by how Gosney did a club sandwich that he decided to hire him as his full-time chef.

“My first two years in the league, people would tell me, ‘You got to get your own chef.’ But I always thought that was too ritzy.”

Now Gosney has O’Neal on a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet that includes egg whites and tortillas for breakfast and lots of baked chicken and fish for lunch and dinner. The two are even considering a book, O’Neal says, called “Feeding a Giant.”

This summer will also find O’Neal back at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, taking a course or two toward the college degree he never finished when he bolted for the NBA as a 20-year-old.

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For TWIsM, the rap label he owns, O’Neal will be finishing up work on a new rap CD to be released in the fall. And according to both O’Neal and his manager, Leonard Armato, O’Neal will be going to film school this summer--most likely to do a one-week intensive course in directing. O’Neal announced his directorial intentions after shooting a recent Pepsi spot with “Lost in Space” kid star Jack Johnson.


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