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Kings Cynical on Ball Debate

Times Staff Writer

The early outrage expressed by Sacramento King management over Shaquille O’Neal’s defaced game ball appears to have given way to a measure of suspicion.

“When the Zen-ite [Phil Jackson] is around,” King General Manager Geoff Petrie told the Sacramento Bee on Saturday, “strange things tend to happen.”

Asked about the incident, in which someone scrawled a profanity on the basketball, Petrie reportedly said, “I suppose it happened, I guess,” an entirely different tone than the organization’s professed vigilance to identify a culprit.

A club official on Friday said Petrie and King owners Joe and Gavin Maloof were quite angry, and would go to any length for justice, including ordering a handwriting analysis. A day later, Petrie did not sound angry, and King players suggested that it might not have happened at all.

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“I’d have some serious questions about where that happened,” Vlade Divac said. “I shot free throws, and I know I would have seen it if it was there.”

Said Chris Webber: “They are just looking for stuff now. That’s all that is.”

Laker official John Black, who took the basketball from the scorer’s table shortly after the game ended, was adamant again that he noted the writing as soon as he lifted the ball.

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Commissioner David Stern, at SBC Center to honor David Robinson for a career spent serving the community, said O’Neal had a right to by angry about the vandalism, wherever it may have occurred.

“Shaq is one of the great players in NBA history and clearly deserves to be treated better than the reports of that incident indicate,” Stern said. “You can’t be protected against every childish act.”

O’Neal scored his 20,000th point with the basketball.

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Robert Garciduenas, the father of long-time Laker trainer Rudy Garciduenas, died late last week after a long illness. Rudy stayed with his family in Los Angeles through the weekend and intended to join the team in Atlanta.... Assistant coach Tex Winter, who, at 81, has cut back on his travel, is on the trip that continues with games in Atlanta on Tuesday night and Houston on Wednesday night.... Kobe Bryant did not have an assist for the first time this season. He had one assist on three occasions, all Laker victories.... Tim Duncan landed hard on Bryant’s right knee near the end of the game. While he stayed on the floor for a short period, Bryant said later he was unhurt.


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