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At Center Stage, They Still Manage to Blow Lines

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Maybe it’s a lack of oxygen, or banging your head once too often on a doorway, but it seems as if the taller the person the more likely they are going to say something stupid.

I suppose there are exceptions; I married a woman 5 feet 2. And I don’t believe Mike Garrett is a very tall man; but, for example, if you didn’t know Jack Haley was taller than Van Earl Wright and Carolyn Hughes because they’re sitting behind a desk on the “Southern California Report,” you’d only have to listen to Haley talk to know he’s the tall one.

Right now the two tallest working guys in town are Michael Olowokandi and Shaquille O’Neal, and based on what we have heard lately, it’s pretty clear that centers should be seen and not heard.

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OLOWOKANDI MAKES millions, and what a great country this is. Sometimes he plays hard, and sometimes he simply goes through the motions of playing like a stiff.

This season he has been in full pout because the Clippers won’t give him millions on top of millions without first proving himself worthy.

Olowokandi made it clear recently he’s out of here next year, and when the paying customers booed him for talking like a spoiled millionaire, he let them have it again: “I think sometimes they want to find a scapegoat.... I did publicly state I wasn’t going to be back next year, which I still will publicly say. I’m not going to be back here next year, so they can go ahead and boo. It doesn’t matter.”

That’s totally unfair to Clipper fans, who have embraced this team, selling out Staples Center for the final 16 games last season. To get to this point, where the fans are booing one of the Clippers, demonstrates just how much your flapping yap can get you in trouble.

And that brings us to Superman, who until now, has been bulletproof.

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NOW RIGHT away I’ve got to admit, when the e-mail began to come in calling for editorial comment about Shaq using a mock Chinese accent to say, “Tell Yao Ming, ‘ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh,’ ” I paid little attention. I didn’t find it offensive, didn’t think it was funny, just didn’t think much of it.

I’ve grown accustomed to Shaq’s attempts at humor, and his dismissal of anyone who might athletically challenge or criticize him, so I attributed it to “Shaq being Shaq.”

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But then admittedly, I also had the same immediate reaction to what Fuzzy Zoeller said about Tiger Woods years ago when it came to the tradition of the Masters champion selecting the dinner menu. Zoeller said he hoped Woods wouldn’t order “fried chicken and collard greens or whatever it is they serve.” Fuzzy being the not-so-funny Fuzzy this time.

Like Shaq, Zoeller was known as an athlete who always went for the humorous line even when it didn’t work, but the firestorm that followed Zoeller’s comments cost him his endorsement alignment with Kmart and placed him in the publicly humiliated company of Al Campanis and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder.

Woods, meanwhile, in a GQ magazine article, and Reggie White, speaking before a group of politicians, offered stereotypical and derogatory comments about race and sexual orientation, but paid little in terms of contrary opinion. It’s an oddity that has also been raised in several recent e-mail inquiries.

Now the feeling among most reporters who listened to Shaq’s apology Friday night in the Laker locker room is that he has closed the door on this controversy.

I wonder. Alexander C. Tsai, describing himself as a fourth-year student from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, e-mailed The Times on Saturday with a lengthy reply to Shaq’s apology.

He pointed out that Shaq had made kung fu noises previously, saying “Wah Ching, or whatever his name is,” while referring to Yao.

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“Some might defend O’Neal by claiming his ‘jokes’ are harmless,” Tsai wrote. “Are they? Or are they harmless and not offensive primarily because Yao Ming is not black? To turn the joke on its head, suppose Yao Ming had said in an interview, ‘Tell Tyrone, or whatever his name is, if he wants some of this [proceeds to make monkey noises] -- come and get it.’ These hypothetical statements and O’Neal’s jokes are morally equivalent and deeply offensive.

“But O’Neal is getting a pass. Funny? No. Racist? Probably not. Ignorant? Probably so.”

Conclusion? (Fill in your own politically correct answer).

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TURNED THE TV on for the Saturday morning cartoons and got a Detroit-Philadelphia hockey game on ABC. I guess ABC wanted to find an audience that was used to seeing violence in that time slot.

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WHAT’S WRONG with this picture? On Saturday’s NFL pregame playoff show, a Charger helmet could be seen just over the shoulder of host Jim Nantz. I guess the only explanation is that the teams in the playoffs needed their helmets, and as long as the Chargers aren’t doing anything at this time of year ...

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RYAN WALCOTT and Jason Kapono get wide-open looks for three-point shots to bring UCLA back from a double-digit deficit, and Coach Steve Lavin is looking inspirational. Walcott and Kapono miss the open shots, St. John’s goes to the other end of the court and each time throws in a three-pointer, and Lavin’s a goner.

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TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from Paul Renteria:

“How come you didn’t let us know about Salma Hayek being nude in her movie, ‘Frida’? Haven’t you seen ‘Frida’?”

I was just saying to the wife the other day we don’t go to the movies enough; maybe I’ll just have to start going myself.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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