MIAMI — Heat President Pat Riley said that he could finally cross off the top item on his lifetime to-do list: Find Shaquille.
Six days after acquiring Shaquille O'Neal from the Lakers for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a future first-round draft pick, the Heat and Miami literally rolled out the red carpet to welcome this larger-than-life sports icon.
After bouncing out of a tractor-trailer with "Diesel Power" and his visage emblazoned on the side, the late-arriving O'Neal quickly promised to take care of Riley's next to-do item, one that he promised upon his arrival nearly a decade ago.
"Remember this, I'm going to bring a championship to Miami," O'Neal said. "I promise."
After charming more than 3,000 fans on the outside steps of AmericanAirlines Arena, O'Neal pulled out his best material to entertain the media circus at center court inside the arena on a dais that included Riley, Heat Coach Stan Van Gundy, his agent Perry Rogers and manager Michael Parris.
"I told my wife when I was rolling up, I felt like the president," he said before humming "Hail to the Chief." O'Neal said the over-the-top welcoming committee had nothing to do with basketball: "That's just because I'm sexy."
However, underneath his one-liners and Muhammad Ali-like recycled quips, one could sense the seething anger.
Without mentioning Kobe Bryant's name, O'Neal tossed up several veiled shots at his former teammate, whom he felt had drifted away from the team concept over the last two seasons after winning three consecutive championships.
"I lost a lot of fire because I was being too nice," O'Neal said. "A lot of time I wanted to blow up and knock people out, but I had to be professional and take a chill pill.
"I was always the scapegoat when things went wrong and I accepted that understanding I'm the millennium goliath and no one's going to root for me," he added. "My only wish is if it's going to fall on me, let it be done my way . As soon as the power started to shift a little bit, things started getting frazzled."
In another reference to the ongoing power struggle between O'Neal and Bryant, O'Neal let the assembled know that the Heat is, "Dwyane Wade's team. He's that type of guard who can lead us and do good things. I'm just his big brother here to back him up."
O'Neal selected Miami and Dallas as his top two destinations, but he knew the Lakers wanted him out of the Western Conference. The Indiana Pacers were considered, but the longtime Orlando resident preferred South Florida, where he, his wife, Shaunie, and five children vacation every summer.
"I met with Pat and he heard the determination in my voice to come and take care of business," O'Neal said.
But most of all, O'Neal said he chose the Heat because he admired the way Van Gundy had his players meshing during its unexpected run to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"I'm no idiot. I already came in with all the hype trying to do it by myself," O'Neal said of his Magic years. "It can't be done. No player has done it. I don't care how good you are; you need pieces."
O'Neal believes that with Wade and his former teammate Eddie Jones as the core, the Heat is on the cusp of a title.
"If we take care of business, do things mathematically correct we should be on top of the East," said O'Neal, who is set to earn $27.5 million this year with a player's option in 2006.
"Dwyane should be in the All-Star game, Eddie should be in the three-point shooting contest and we should have fun and get it done."
O'Neal, 32, said his surgically repaired right big toe is 100% and that he weighs 340 pounds with 14% body fat and not 360 pounds as has been widely reported.
The injury and pounding he absorbed with the Lakers took its toll on his conditioning, but he has vowed to silence his critics and come into camp in the "best shape" of his career.
"When I came in I was perfect, 2% body fat, 316-320 and we got lost every year in the playoffs," O'Neal said.
O'Neal attempted to downplay the vengeance factor toward the Lakers and Bryant.
"I'm not angry, I'm motivated," he said.
"I've handled all my personal vendettas, every challenge you [the media] put in front of me. I've handled it, dismantled it, ate 'em up, dropped 'em off in the bathroom and flushed them all away. It's all about winning."
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