Shaq's critic pans one of his All-Star shows


MINNEAPOLIS -- For all of you who have called and criticized me for daring to criticize Shaquille O'Neal, for all of you impressed by his massive dunks, for all of you who have bought into the hype that he's the best center in the game, I have just three words:

I told you.

O'Neal got rave reviews over the weekend with his rapping, performing on Friday night at the Glam Slam nightclub of "the guy that used to be Prince," and doing a live spot Saturday on MTV. But on a weekend when everyone was expecting to see the show "Shaquille O'Neal: Unleashed," they got "Shaquille O'Neal: Exposed."

Yes, he grabbed 10 rebounds. But O'Neal missed his first 10 shots and scored eight points -- more than 20 below his league-leading 28.5 points a game. Sure, some of his misses never had a shot -- fellow Reebok spokesman Shawn Kemp blocked three of O'Neal's shots and the West All-Stars went at the second-year player with added vigor.

"People were jumping out from the first rows of the stands covering him," said San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson. "Everyone was going after him."

And when they weren't going after him, O'Neal had some good looks at the basket. Unfortunately for him, they were a little outside of his range -- which extends about two feet.

"This just shows," said Hall of Famer Julius Erving, who works with NBC, "that he has quite a bit to learn."

Say what you want about New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing and his jump shots, but at least he has some offensive options -- demonstrating that he could go inside with a pair of vicious dunks late over Robinson.

With O'Neal's bread-and-butter shot taken away, he was totally lost. Wrote Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Curt Brown, who was assigned to cover O'Neal all weekend: "Yes, he's only 21, but he looked like a kid using a fake ID to sneak into a corner bar full of men."

Perhaps one day he'll earn his way in. But only after he works on his game. Until then, O'Neal's just the Vanilla Ice of the NBA.

Labor talks

When the season ends, there should be some interesting discussions between the league and the NBA Players Association, which will attempt to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. Charles Grantham, president of the players association, said during a news conference Saturday that his group will seek to abolish the decade-old salary cap and the draft.

Grantham said that the players association made concessions with the salary cap at a time when the league was suffering.

"That was 10 years ago. The NBA was not fantastic," Grantham said. "This is 1994. The NBA is solid. We feel it's time to get back to business as usual.

"What we're seeking now is to level the playing field, where every single dollar the player helps earn, they're entitled to share," Grantham added. "The salary cap does not generate revenues. It restricts wages."

Commissioner David Stern was vague on the league's position. The two sides are expected to meet in March.

"We have a number of things that we'd like to see changed, and there are a number of things that the players would like to see changed," Stern said. "I'm sure that it will be an interesting negotiation, but we're committed to the proposition that what we've achieved together we will continue to achieve together."

Changing of the guard

How are the older players adjusting to an All-Star setting that had no Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird or Charles Barkley (who was voted to the game, but sat out with an injury)?

"I really don't know what to think. Usually when I'm here, I see players like Magic, Michael and Larry," Ewing said. "Now, Dominique [Wilkins], Clyde [Drexler] and I are the only ones left. But that's life, I guess."

Wilkins, the Atlanta Hawks forward who scored 11 points in 17 minutes in his seventh All-Star appearance, said he's not ready yet to become a player of the past.

"The new coming in and the old going out -- that's all a lot of hype," Wilkins said. "Yeah, the guys that have been in the league eight, nine, 10 years are still going very strong. So it's all a state of mind. I'll pass [the torch] in two or three years."

Can the league flourish with the new stars? At tip-off for Sunday's game, tickets were being scalped for $10 -- and there were plenty available at that price. It's hard to believe that would happen at an All-Star Game featuring Jordan, Johnson and Bird. According to overnight Neilsen ratings released yesterday, a survey of 29 major markets showed a 32 percent decrease.

An event not to be missed

The hottest ticket in town over the weekend was actually outside of Minneapolis at a place called Paisley Park -- the recording studio of ex-Prince (or symbol or whatever). For the approximately 1,200 people fortunate enough to be invited or get tickets, the event was an opportunity to tour the singer's massive studio complex.

I wasn't invited, but since I'm so well-connected (a reporter with a pass for two felt sorry for me and let me tag along), I attended the midnight affair. Inside was a who's-who of celebrities in town for the game: Magic Johnson, with his wife Cookie, Sinbad, Boyz II Men, "Downtown" Julie Brown and a host of All-Star Weekend participants. Because of fire code restrictions, some players were turned away at the door (probably hurt by the many entourages, which celebrities apparently don't leave home without).

No, O'Neal didn't rap. But the ex-Prince came on stage at 3:30 a.m. and did an incredible 90-minute set of mostly unreleased material. And he also gave a sneak preview of his new video, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," which premiered on television last night.

"I wouldn't miss this one for the world," Johnson, a huge Prince fan, said.

Quote of the weekend

From who else but Barkley, who, in rare form during weekend media sessions, was asked whether players should have bodyguards after recent attacks on athletes:

"It's more fun to punch them yourself."

Barkley, by the way, was the winner of the Uncle Fester (the kooky, domed uncle from the Addams Family) look-alike contest held on the Target Center video screen during one of the game's timeouts.

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