O’Neal Gets Good Separation

Times Staff Writer

Sometimes greatness results from attrition as well as accomplishments, with the rivals dropping away to leave a select few names with which to compare.

Before Shaquille O’Neal could be talked about in comparison to all-time greats Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he had to separate himself from Alonzo Mourning, who was chosen right behind him in the 1992 draft and who retired from the New Jersey Nets last week because of a deteriorating kidney.

O’Neal has a higher career scoring average than every center but Chamberlain, and his championship total is surpassed only by Russell’s, Abdul-Jabbar’s and George Mikan’s among the all-time great big men.

The paths of O’Neal and Mourning diverged sharply in 2000. O’Neal won the most-valuable-player award and his first championship in the spring, and Mourning learned he had a kidney disorder in the fall. O’Neal went on to win two more championships, while Mourning’s career was on one year, off the next, and now apparently is off for good with the news that he needs a kidney transplant.


“I wanted to put distance between myself and every center,” O’Neal said. “I think I’ve done that on a basketball level. But on a real-life level, I never understood why [Mourning] came back after something so life-threatening. The game doesn’t become so important. But some guys stress winning so much that that’s all they know. He’s one of those guys that always wanted to win. But he has a beautiful wife, beautiful kids, he should enjoy that.... When it’s all said and done, nothing’s more important than that.”

On most nights O’Neal leaves Staples Center with his wife and kids


Kobe Bryant’s daughter, Natalia Diamante, attended her first game Friday against the San Antonio Spurs.



O’Neal, on the possibility of hip-hop moguls Jay-Z and Sean Combs (a.k.a. “P. Diddy” and “Puffy”) buying NBA teams, as both have expressed interest in doing:

“I think it would be good having rappers own teams to showcase their business talents. I think [Commissioner David] Stern, he’s probably going to stay away from young, energetic billionaires. He likes [Dallas Maverick owner] Mark Cuban, but I’m sure he doesn’t want another Mark Cuban. He probably wants an old, analog billionaire, rather than a new, digital billionaire.

“This game is just so old in its ways, it’s going to take a miracle for it to change.”

Faces in the Crowd

Tobey McGuire, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ singer Anthony Kiedis on Wednesday against Washington.

Denzel Washington, Diane Keaton, Damon Wayans on Friday against San Antonio.

In a Word



The Gary Payton Foundation distributed 200 Thanksgiving dinners at the Challenger Boys and Girls Club.

“This is very important to me, because I’m trying to give back to the kids, the needy kids,” Payton said. “I grew up in the streets of Oakland, which is ... not that great....

“Some people don’t have an opportunity to go buy a turkey or canned goods or dressing or pies. My opportunity is to come back to these kinds of neighborhoods and help the people who need help.”