- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Shaquille O’Neal uses prepared material when asked to compare the three All-Star guards he has played with: Anfernee Hardaway, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.

“The answer would be in the ‘Godfather’ trilogy,” he says. “One is like Sonny, too dumb to be in control but he will do whatever it takes to be in control, sell his soul to be in control.

“One is like Fredo. You can’t really give it to him, because he’s not that smart. He’s thinks he’s smart, but he’s really not.

“One is Michael Corleone. He’s a very mature, humble guy. And that’s who you give it to. In other words, I don’t mind putting out a piece of my game for Michael ‘Dwyane Wade’ Corleone.”

O’Neal loves this material. He can barely get through it without laughing. But the Godfather of NBA centers has evolved, too.

In Orlando, he was a big kid, the No.1 overall pick in 1992, the best 20-year-old in league history despite LeBron James’ current brilliance. He was multitalented: bad at both film and rap music, ripping second and third picks Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner in one song.

O’Neal and Hardaway, two wunderkinds with different personalities, never meshed. Ultimately, O’Neal went Hollywood, signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. Hardaway was seen as the coach killer, the one responsible for the Magic’s firing of Brian Hill.

In Los Angeles, O’Neal became the professional. In Phil Jackson, he found a coach he respected. Jackson pushed O’Neal, who won his only MVP award in 2000 and the first of three championships.

During those championship runs, Bryant emerged as a star and challenged O’Neal for control of the team. O’Neal demanded a trade last summer. Bryant was seen as the coach killer, the one responsible for Jackson leaving.

Now in Miami, O’Neal, who will be 33 next week, is more secure and more wanted than in years. He is an MVP candidate again. Laettner is one of his backups. Soon Mourning will be, too.

“The older you get, the smarter you get,” O’Neal says. “When you’ve got a young guy like Dwyane, you let him go. I always get mine and do what I do, but when you have a young guy like Dwyane, you’ve got to let him shine.”

O’Neal never spoke of Hardaway or Bryant like this. A part of him always was threatened by them. But this is a different O’Neal. He is the wise, old veteran, with plenty of good material left.

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