He may have to decline Shaq's generous offer

Shaquille O'Neal took exception to last week's column, apparently unimpressed by my suggesting everyone's dismay at his injury ("And then, as Bill Murray says in 'Stripes' as his girl walks out the door, depression set in. That's how it felt when Shaquille O'Neal left and not just in Miami.")

He may also have missed my expression of confidence in his future ("If he could bear the indignity of being a lesser Shaq, he could play out this season and the last three on his $80-million deal and be a huge plus. Even if he's no longer Superman, there's no other hulk like him and never was.")

Then there was my salute to his greatness ("The Age of Giants was over. ... It was The Age of Giant and he was it") and the five paragraphs saying he'll be remembered as much "for the sheer fun of having him around."

We do disagree on his rate of decline, so happily I wasn't waiting by the phone for him to tell me how much he liked it.

"Mark Heisler is the type of guy if he was to say that in my face and I was to punch him in the face, he would be the first one to run to the state attorney to try and sue," Shaq told Miami writers. "Mark Heisler is a wussy. You can tell him I said it. ...

"I'm setting up a charity event and I'm going to box Mark Heisler and punch him right in the mouth. And it'll be for charity so he can't sue me."

Hey, if it's for a good cause, how can I say no?

Just in case, I've instructed my attorney to sue Shaq for every penny he has, regardless of any waivers I will obviously sign under duress.

At least my family would get a beach house out of it. Unfortunately, I may be there only in spirit.

Can't we all just get along?

Yeah, right.

Last week's filing by the players' union of unfair labor practices charges against the league on the issues of the new basketball and the right to protest to the referees amounts to a nuisance suit.

The question is why NBA Commissioner David Stern, committed to showing "our players" in their best light in his prized "NBA Cares" campaign, keeps finding himself in long-running arguments with his players that undermine or cancel out the entire initiative.

In fact, Stern doesn't rule by consensus and it's not just the players who get bossed around. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich, who rarely complains about anything, just went ballistic when NBA Vice President Stu Jackson called Bruce Bowen directly and told him to change the way he plays defense.

"They're trying to change the way Bruce plays and we don't even know about it?" Popovich fumed. "... I told Bruce, 'You be Bruce Bowen. You will not change the way you play defense.' "

Nevertheless, players aren't entitled to cop out by blaming the referees for every loss. Far worse are the constant complaints -- by players, teams, fans and the media -- about league conspiracies, so the result is one champion and 29 teams saying the fix was in.

Since the start of this season's Technical Foul Festival, Ts have dropped to normal levels.

Why Stern would let a new basketball become an issue is beyond me. He was tipped off as far back as media day, which the players used as a national day of mourning for their old ball.

Instead of just giving them their old ball back, Stern joked "It's done a lot for my bank shot" and went ahead, and the muttering hasn't died out yet.

That was a joke, wasn't it?

Famous last words

New York's 5-8 Nate Robinson, asked what he had in mind after going in on a breakaway in Cleveland in a five-point game, bouncing the ball off the floor, grabbing it in midair and missing a dunk: "Trying to dunk it. What'd it look like? ... That's Nate Robinson, spontaneous Nate Robinson."

-- Mark Heisler

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