Nobody ever sends Goliath a thank you note, so....

Thank you, Shaquille O'Neal, win or lose, for everything you do
and everything you don't.

Thanks for never showing up in the sports section my kids read
with a bowl of cocaine, three "freelance models" and a Glock 17.

Thanks for never getting stopped for weaving down the middle of
the San Diego Freeway at 3 a.m. with the blood-alcohol level of
Boris Yeltsin.

Thanks for not throwing your dates through windows or down
staircases or out of limousines. A lot of us have daughters who
admire you.

Thanks for busting your rather enormous butt. How a guy 7'1", 320
pounds making $18 million a year stays hungry I have no idea, but
you do. You played more minutes this season than ever before. You
can't sleep after losses. You have your own key to the Mira Costa
High girls' gym just so you can go and shoot free throws for an
hour--sometimes even after wins.

Thanks for not sticking a big stogie in your mouth after every
win or conducting your postgame interviews with two bimbos under
each arm. You're kind enough to let your owner do that.

Thanks for being big-time generous. You gave $1 million to the
Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which inspired Bill Gates to
pony up enough for 30 new clubs, which sparked AOL chairman Steve
Case to provide 30,000 computers and 30,000 Internet accounts for
Boys and Girls Clubs around the country. And they say one person
can't make a difference.

Thanks for being small-time generous, too. You make the payments
on your trainer's truck. You dress up in ridiculous costumes,
Shaq-a-bunny at Easter and Shaq-a-Claus at Christmas, to take the
embarrassment out of folks having to take a handout. That's
decency. People don't forget that. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is hanging
around the Los Angeles Clippers now and nobody seems to mind, but
Lakers fans will have you bronzed 10 minutes after you retire.

Thanks for wanting to get better. Some young stars level off.
Penny Hardaway, for instance. But you've ratcheted up everything
about your game this season. You blocked more shots, scored more
points, had more assists and cleared more rebounds than ever
before. You even improved your free throw percentage. Hey, as the
midget in elevator heels said, "Every little bit helps."

Thanks for smiling. You fall on your keister skateboarding and
laugh. You ride your motor scooter around, looking like an
elephant on a roller skate, and laugh. You cruise the Hollywood
Hills on your custom Titan motorcycle and laugh. Kareem used to
schedule one smile a year whether he thought he needed to or not.

Thanks for being the kind of superhero we think we'd be. During a
day off in Phoenix you showed up at the house of the Suns' team
photographer because you knew it was his 10-year-old son's
birthday. You had ice cream and cake, played video games and then
went to the boy's hockey game. You even gave his team a pregame
speech. Uh, fellas, I don't know much about hockey, but the
fourth quarter is OURS!

Thanks for having the self-control of a Chuck E. Cheese manager.
What opponents do to you three nights a week would fill a season
on ER. Nobody gets more welts, lumps and contusions than you
do--and they're league-sanctioned! There's even a term for abusing
you, Hack-a-Shaq, as though it were something in the playbook,
like double-down or box-and-one. If I were you, a half-dozen
Portland Trail Blazers would've left on gurneys by now.

Thank your dad for us, too--Sarge, your stepfather, Phil Harrison.
Yeah, he was tough on you--making you copy pages out of the
dictionary, making you crouch against the wall, knees bent,
thighs parallel to the floor, holding an encyclopedia in
outstretched arms--but he gave you something every kid needs:
somebody you didn't want to disappoint. "I could never act a
punk," you say. "He'd let me have it." But when you called him to
tell him you'd won the MVP award, he wept. It's true: Good men
raise good men.

You quoted Aristotle the other day when you said, "You are what
you repeatedly do." Well, win or lose, in front of millions of
kids every day, you repeatedly do the right thing, which makes
you the right guy.

So, just thought somebody ought to say thanks.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

Thanks, Shaq, for busting your rather enormous butt and being the
kind of superhero we think we'd be.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)