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Walton Is Winning Friends in High Places

Times Staff Writer

For Luke Walton it’s been a short, strange trip, taking relatively little time to draw praise from Phil Jackson and draw close to Shaquille O’Neal.

His laid-back personality and unselfish game have won over the entire team, even those who were inclined to dislike him for whatever reasons.

“Actually, because of his father [the outspoken Bill Walton], I was going to [mess] him up,” O’Neal said. "... But he’s a cool dude. When you’ve got someone like that, you try to take care of them. And he can play. Coming from his background, his father was [an] ... OK player. He came from a great college coach [Lute Olson]. All the guys that come out of Arizona are pretty fundamentally sound.”

Jackson is always tough on first-year players; his stock phrase is that rookies are lower than whale droppings (or words to that effect).

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But by December, Walton had impressed the coach enough to elevate him off the ocean floor.

“He’s starting to bob to the surface,” Jackson said.

Earlier this month, Jackson said: “I’m actually thinking of him like a veteran now. His experience is notable. He’s a little bit older, more mature.

“And unlike a lot of rookies, he’s not looking to score every time he touches the ball. He’s looking to pass, which is nice.”

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For Walton, it’s a little unbelievable that this superstar has taken to him. “It’s Shaq, you know?” he said.

“Trust me, I was scared when I first got here,” Walton said. “The first couple of days of training camp, he made it seem like he was going to be rough. But he’s a great man. He’s nice. He’s got my back. He makes it fun to be on the team.

“In training camp they said they were going to kill me. But they’ve been nice.”

Bill Walton couldn’t be happier for his son.

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“I told Luke he had the greatest opportunity in the world to play for Coach Jackson, the Lakers, all these guys,” he said. “Luke is the luckiest guy in the draft. It’s been a dream come true for our family.

“To see him bonding, to see him developing friendships with his new teammates, it’s been a dream come true.”

Sights

Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith and Danny DeVito walking off the court together after the Sacramento game Thursday. OK, it was about two hours after the game. And it was for a scene in the movie “Be Cool.” It still didn’t look right.

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“That was weird,” Jackson said. “Especially after a loss. I don’t know if Anna had ever been at a game before or knew what was going on at the arena.”

Sounds

A notable lack of boos when the Lakers played in Phoenix, one of Kobe Bryant’s potential free-agent suitors. They booed him when he first touched the ball, and that was it.

In a Word

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“Health.”

Bryant’s explanation for his run of six 30-plus scoring games after the All-Star break, after missing 13 of the 16 games before the break because of to injuries.

Faces in the Crowd

Champ Bailey, Wednesday at Denver.

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Smith, DeVito, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Eddie Murphy, Kristen Davis, Della Reese, Thursday vs. Sacramento.

LaVar Arrington, Tim Russert, Biz Markie, Saturday at Washington.


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