- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2000

So Shaquille O'Neal is going to hang out with the Disney characters.

Maybe Goofy can defend O'Neal better than Rik Smits. That is one Goofy to another.

O'Neal is the second-most intriguing person with the Lakers.

John Salley is the first.

How about Salley?

He collected another NBA championship ring while taking up a seat on the Zen master's bench. This is his fourth ring with three different teams: two with the Pistons, one with the Bulls and now one with the Lakers.

As far as anyone could tell, Salley made only three contributions to the Lakers. He talked a good game. He clapped a good game. And he smiled a lot.

The latter came easiest to him. You would smile a lot, too, if you were being paid good money to model a uniform and your only official duties were to carry O'Neal's bags and mop his bald pate with a towel during timeouts.

Ron Harper earned his fourth championship ring, too. Unlike Salley, Harper plays a better game than he talks. English, in fact, appears to be Harper's second language. Harper takes it one syllable an hour.

O'Neal may have been tough. But the crowd outside the Staples Center was tougher.

Here's the thinking: You win a title. You burn two police cars and cause a mess.

People used to be content to cheer their championship teams. Now they reach for a book of matches and light the closest object in celebration.

Where was St. Rodney King when Los Angeles needed him?

Pent-up rage is an awful thing to waste on a basketball championship.

Go, O.J., go.

Conspiracy theorists, especially those living in Indiana, have a case to make, notably the dubious foul call late in the game that resulted in Glen Rice sinking two free-throw attempts.

People get bumped harder in the checkout line of a grocery store. House flies hit harder. Perhaps the Zen master sprinkled some of his psychedelic dust on the referees before the game.

You don't make that call near the end of the game, not with the Pacers in possession of the ball and down by one point and the teams trading their best shots. You don't even make that call in the first minute of a meaningless game in January.

Television replays showed that Dale Davis claimed the loose ball after blocking Rice's shot. The referees hallucinated the rest.

The Pacers played about as well as they could, Smits excluded. Smits is allergic to rebounding and commits more silly fouls than someone his advanced basketball age should.

Smits acted incredibly optimistic around O'Neal. He is perhaps the only person in the world who believes a touch foul can impede the progress of a monster jam by O'Neal. Smits must have flunked physics in high school.

Credit went to the Zen master.

As you know, he fries a mean banana peel.

The Zen master won six titles with Michael Jordan. That background encouraged the Lakers, mostly O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, to smell the incense and accept that one was good for the other.

The Zen master's predecessors were no less insightful, just less persuasive minus the six rings.

Basketball is not a complicated game. With the Lakers, dumping the ball to O'Neal is most of the playbook.

Rice, for one, felt left out. Now he can make it official and leave the Lakers. Will anyone notice?

In the triangle offense, Rice evolved from one of the game's best shooters to a player who couldn't find the basket or keep his wife quiet.

The Zen master's mind-expanding philosophies apparently go only so far with women. He is separated from his wife and dating the owner's daughter.

Larry Bird is finished after taking a team that was thought to be finished when he came aboard three seasons ago. The Pacers are old as dirt, have six free agents and probably won't reach this level of excellence next season.

Yet they battled, and they made it interesting. But in the end, they lost to a 7-foot-1, 315-pound man who redefines the concept of brute force.

At least O'Neal did not stuff Smits through the cylinder.

Maybe the threat of that prompted Smits to stay out of O'Neal's way.

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