Expert Testimony

October 12, 2003

Trials could begin soon for two Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant
faces rape charges in an Eagle, Colo., court. And Shaquille
O'Neal faces the trial of his basketball career on NBA courts.

Shaq has lots to prove--that he can again be the game's greatest
center, that the Lakers have always been his team and Bryant's
mess can't destroy it, that he's not the flabby Sugar Shaq of
last season but the Super Shaq from three years before.

The prosecution (me) called Shaquille Rashaun O'Neal to the stand
(last week before he went to training camp).

Is Kobe innocent?

"I don't know. I wasn't there. I don't know what happened. I have
faith in the American justice system. But I'm not gonna talk
about him this season in interviews."

But can the Kobe fiasco ruin the Lakers' season?

"It could make us or break us. But we have three top, cunning
veterans--Karl [Malone], Gary [Payton] and me. We'll help the
younger guys get through this. They ain't gonna get tricked. But
I don't wanna hear any more from younger guys like I been
hearin'. You know, talkin' like they're movin' up a notch because
one of the generals went down. Nuh-uh. We ain't doin' it that
way."

Is it time to prove to the world that this was your team all
along?

"I don't care whose team y'all think it is. Kobe needs me, and I
need him. But I know one thing--I'm the general. I'm Colin
Powell. Anything goes wrong in Laker Nation, they blame me."

Last season they blamed you. People said you waited too long in
the off-season to have toe surgery. Phil Jackson said you were
out of shape. Did that bother you?

"The only thing that upset me was my organization didn't stick
behind me. A guy works for an organization, he expects to get
some backup. Like, when [Dallas forward] Dirk Nowitzki went down
[with a knee sprain] last year, [Mavs coach and G.M.] Don Nelson
said, 'No problem, Dirk. Don't play.' But do I get that from my
organization? No. I'm out there on one leg. One knee. I'm hurtin'
like f------ crazy. All I get is, 'He's outta shape.' But I don't
say anything. I just put it in my file--for later."

Were you insulted that Jackson recently pimped you for winning
only one MVP and challenged you to win it again this year?

"I learned a long time ago that you can't play for the MVP here.
I learned that it's selfish. They told me one time to go out and
get the MVP, so I did. If they tell me everybody's on the same
page, that they're gonna help me get the MVP this year, I'll go
get it."

Can you?

"Well, we got to go back to the basics with our offense. Last
year we got all cute, we experimented, and we got messed up.
Everybody in the world knows what the Lakers are supposed to do.
The Lakers throw it in to Diesel. If Diesel gets doubled, he
kicks it out for an open three. If they don't, then you stand
back and Diesel thrashes. Simple. No additives. No
preservatives."

Is it true you worked out the deals for Malone and Payton?

"Ninety-eight percent of it. Gary's got four years left in the
league. Karl's got two or three years left. I got three years
left. I needed a new army. They needed a new army."

But with a team like that, don't you have to win the title?

"It'd be a shame if we don't win the whole thing. We should've
won the whole thing last year, but we counted our chickens before
they hatched. It was 'Four Phil' and 'Four Chick' and 'Four
Shaq.' That's no good."

The Lakers' front office doesn't seem to be moving very quickly
to extend your contract. Do you feel like you don't get enough
credit?

"I don't get enough credit sometimes, but that's fine. I don't
want credit. You come to my house right now, and you won't see a
single trophy. No MVPs. Nothin'. You can't be satisfied. I'm not
satisfied with three rings. I want my five. Five is my goal. Then
maybe I'd like to have six. Me and Lance [Armstrong]."

Fine, you may step down.

I don't think it's going to be that easy for the Lakers. Malone
was heroic in his day, but he's a few thousand miles over
warranty. Three more years? How about three more months? Payton
will be a wall on D, but will he be happy with 10 points a game?
Kobe will be a mental yard sale, and he's going to detest 1) not
bringing the ball up, 2) feeding three other superstars, and 3)
having to part microphones to get to the Gatorade tray. Does the
Big Aristotle have answers for all that?

The jury has until June.

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

"I know one thing--I'm the general," Shaq says. "I'm Colin
Powell. Anything goes wrong in Laker Nation, they blame me."

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)