- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal has tossed around the idea of going into law enforcement after he retires from the NBA. If he does pursue a second career behind a badge, O’Neal figures his ability to read body language will come in handy.

He feels it did when the Washington Wizards and Michael Jordan showed up for Jordan’s final game in Los Angeles against the then-defending champion Lakers. What O’Neal said he saw last Feb.28 was a team not mentally ready to compete — worn down and overburdened, he thinks, from the final two years of Jordan’s playing career in Washington.

“I really didn’t pay attention to everything that happened [to the Wizards] last year, but I could look at some of the guys’ faces and tell they were not happy,” O’Neal said yesterday. “You could tell they were tired of it all.”

O’Neal missed last night’s game against the Wizards at Staples Center with a strained calf, just as he missed last season’s first meeting, which the Wizards won 100-99 at MCI Center on a last-second dunk by Jerry Stackhouse.

O’Neal, 31, has led the Lakers to three NBA championships. He has talked about the possibility of leading the Lakers — odds-on favorites to win a fourth championship after adding aging future Hall of Famers Karl Malone (40) and Gary Payton (35) via free agency — to as many titles as Jordan’s six in eight seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Despite Jordan’s greatness, O’Neal was not surprised to see the Wizards fail to reach the playoffs with him.

“It didn’t surprise me because the sun doesn’t shine forever,” said the 11-year veteran. “There comes a time when even the best of us get older and a step slower. Things just don’t happen like they used to happen. That day will come for everybody.”

O’Neal said he asked former Wizard and present teammate Bryon Russell about the situation last season in Washington. Russell opted out of the final year of his Wizards contract in hopes of catching on with a winner.

“This turned out to be a great situation for me,” said Russell, a native of the Los Angeles area. “I’ve got the opportunity to play for a championship.”

And what about the situation he left?

“It was bad,” Russell said.

Whether Russell, who signed a one-year deal, will get to play for that championship depends greatly on the fragile relationship between O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, who is facing trial on rape charges. O’Neal didn’t comment on the relationship, focusing instead on his future, which he says could see him playing into his late 30s.

“I don’t know [if I can],” O’Neal said. “But hopefully if I look too bad, I have friends and family that will say, ‘Do something else,’” O’Neal said. “Believe me, I’m not the type who will be out there at 40 years old still thinking I can do the [stuff]. I don’t like to be talked about. I’m not going to give you guys an opportunity to say ‘Shaq is washed up.’ If it gets to that point, I’m out. I’m gone.”

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