PHOENIX -- Talk about being ready to rule on day one . . .
Shaquille O’Neal could be as old as Methuselah and he could be joining a troupe of midgets in the circus, but nobody does the first day in town like he does.
Skeptical as this town was about how his big backside will keep up with the local roadrunners, resistance crumbled before his even bigger personality in another light-hearted romp through another introductory news conference.
Lights, camera . . . Diesel!
“I’m very upset,” O’Neal said, looking appropriately stern. “You just don’t really want to get me upset. When I’m upset I’m known to do certain things, like win championships.”
Then there was his promise to participate in the Suns’ vaunted training program. (Like they say, better late than never.)
“I will be there every day early, before and after practice, doing whatever it takes to keep me going for the next 10 years,” O’Neal said.
“And I look forward to getting my next $200-million-for-two-years extension.”
Of course, it’s yet to be seen if the medical staff can actually help 35-year-old O’Neal become “more mobile and explosive,” as General Manager Steve Kerr put it.
What do they think the Heat medical staff was doing, sticking pins in dolls?
However, there’s no minimizing the joy with which O’Neal’s new teammates greeted him. If Shaq no longer strikes utter terror in opponents’ hearts, he’s still accorded respect bordering on awe by peers.
“Shaq is a legend,” New Orleans guard Chris Paul said after scoring 42 points in the Hornets’ win here Wednesday. “I’d love to have him on my team, no matter how fast we play.”
Said Hornets Coach Byron Scott of the trade: “My reaction? ‘Damn.’ ”
It’s true, the Suns’ days of averaging 110 points will soon end and it won’t be easy to make the transition in the middle of a brutal Western Conference race.
On the other hand, the Suns also have just gone from tiny to big and from boys to men.
Pointed as Steve Nash could be -- when Amare Stoudemire said the Spurs were dirty last spring, he replied, “I can’t really go to the playpen and tell everyone how they’re supposed to behave” -- Nash didn’t dominate the dressing room.
If anything, Stoudemire and Shawn Marion resented the fact that Nash, the two-time MVP, got most of the recognition.
Worse, Stoudemire and Marion had begun taking nights off.
To people around the Suns, if the old magic was missing, it was no mystery why.
“I’ve been a fan of Amare Stoudemire ever since I saw him as a young boy in Orlando,” O’Neal said.
“I used to tell my friends he’s going to be ‘the next.’ So now to be able to be his big brother right here with him and play with him and watch him and tell him about certain guys and help him get to that next level, it’s going to be exciting. . . .
“This is the Amare Stoudemire project . . . I’m going to make all the other guys better. It’s kind of hard to make Nash better because he’s already one of the greatest point guards ever to play the game.”
Of course with O’Neal, the Suns also get a marketing maven who’s no less interested in ways to move product than Commissioner David Stern.
“Start selling T-shirts now,” O’Neal announced. “All the marketing people, I’m giving you this one for free: ‘The sun will rise in Phoenix.’ ”
“Sell them now, $9.99.”
And, of course, what O’Neal news conference would be complete without questions about Kobe Bryant and the Lakers?
Asked if he looks forward to playing the Lakers:
“I look forward to playing whoever. The Suns without me were still the powerhouse in the West. . . . We don’t want to come and make silly rivalries that don’t make sense. We’re on a mission now.”
Asked if he’s concerned about the Lakers:
“I’m not concerned with any other teams. I’m the assistant vice-general manager of this team. [The Lakers] have been playing really well all year. Kobe’s one of the best players in the league and he’s always been. . . . Pau Gasol is a great, fundamentally sound big man. I think he will thrive in the triangle offense.”
In other words, this silly rivalry isn’t on yet, but how long can it be?
Think of it, Shaq and Kobe, together again, if only in the Pacific Division, which can’t be big enough for both of them.