WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Wizards guards old and new were the toast of the capital last night, but we all know why God invented NBA games in November.
For Shaq. The Big Fella has to rest his Big Toe sometime.
That's not to say that former Tar Heels like Jerry Stackhouse can't go off on a wildly impressive round of early-season statement making on a team built and controlled by that most famous Tar Heel.
Wow. We can only imagine how big the cigar was that Michael Jordan smoked after last night's last-second victory. In June, we'll talk about the one-two Lakers punch of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, but last night it was Stackhouse and Jordan. This was a win the Wizards will take and run with. It was a night they can build on. With 2.9 seconds left in a game they had trailed all night, the Shaq-less L.A. Lakers stole a one-point lead on Robert Horry's three-pointer.
But in a November made for the underdogs and NBA champion wannabes, there was Wizards newcomer Stackhouse catching the ball from Bryon Russell, breaking to the basket, then flushing a dunk to seal the Wizards' 100-99 win.
Wasn't Stackhouse one of Jordan's heirs apparent, just before Bryant permanently took over that difficult and maybe slightly damning role?
With a game-high 29 points, Stackhouse helped make the free-throw-missing Jordan look great - Jordan the Wizards general manager, not Jordan the Wizards other shooting guard, that is.
With the hop and energy Jordan would like to have back - why the heck did Jordan sit out those three years? - Stackhouse is the guy Jordan will ride all the way to the Eastern Conference playoffs, just you watch.
"The Lakers made a comeback because they're the champions. They believe they're in every game they play and that's the way we want to be," Stackhouse said.
But last night was the only time the Lakers will be in town this season - unless the showdown was a preview of the 2003 NBA Finals. It's nice to dream, especially since anytime you get Jordan and Phil Jackson in the same building, sparks fly.
"Stop that lying, Phil Jackson," Jordan yelled down the hall when he saw his former Bulls coach holding court with the media.
"He's just lying. That's all he's doing," Jordan said, smirking.
And what tall tales Jackson has to tell this November, just when he promised the Lakers would go 1-6 or 0-7 to start.
"Look, we've already exceeded Phil's expectations," Bryant said about the Lakers [meaningless] 2-5 record.
As inspiring as it is to see Jordan's casting call (Stackhouse and Russell joining Jordan and Kwame Brown), the real season has yet to begin. That's because of Shaq's toe.
"I look down at it and see a big scar and green nail polish," Shaq said last night at MCI Center, where the Wizards took advantage of the three-time defending NBA champs who are without the Big Fella and are getting pulverized for it.
Shaq said the scar is scary and six inches long, newly carved during toe surgery which should keep him out of the L.A. Lakers lineup another week or two. As for the nail polish. Green?
"The color of money," Shaq said, adding: "You'll never see Kobe with his toenails painted green."
To which Bryant responded with a bemused smile: "Shaq's a unique individual."
Shaq's unique, all right. He is the biggest missing cog in this early-season wreckage called November in the NBA. Injuries are rampant, including Vince Carter, Mike Bibby, Latrell Sprewell, Antonio McDyess and Allen Iverson nursing a bum thumb. Let's face it, though. Until the NBA title doesn't go through Tinseltown anymore, it's all about Shaq. At least he thinks so, and probably we should join his brainwave.
"In one week or two weeks, real life will happen. It's going to come very, very soon. One week or two weeks, watch out," Shaq said as if to undermine the work that Stackhouse and Co. did when they executed on coach Doug Collins' winning play.
This is reality TV in the era of the Big Toe, otherwise known as the Big Aristotle or Shaq Fu, Shaq Diesel or Superman. You can call Shaq anything you want. Just don't call him 80 pounds overweight.
Last night, Shaq looked downright slim. Maybe that's because his mother called and told him to throw away that atrocious plaid leisure suit he wore on the bench during a nationally televised Lakers game last week. Talk about unflattering.
"It was Burberry's. It was good stuff," Shaq said, confessing that he did heed her warning and ditched the Burberry pajamas.
But while Shaq will listen to his mama, he was incensed about being called fat. That is a big mistake, one that former NBA forward and current ESPN reporter Sean Elliott made and found out about last night, with Shaq blistering Elliott's ears.
We must surmise that being on the injured list gives Shaq a lot of spare time to channel surf. The Big Man is a little ornery, but he's defending his little buddy, Kobe, all the way, even after Bryant had to stop and watch in frustration last night as Stackhouse ruled the roost like the true Jordan Heir.
"I haven't told him anything. Kobe can't be out there by himself. The other guys have to make him look good," Shaq said.
"Kobe's dominant. Kobe's always wanted to be better than the best. He's done a good job. The thing about having a one-two punch, he's able to hold the fort. Right now, I'm down, he's holding the fort. If he ever goes down, I'll hold the fort down for a few games. But when we're in there together, we're very, very dangerous. Like I said. What you're seeing right now is not real life."
From where Shaq stands, even on an aching big toe, you can't exactly blame him for this point of view. Sorry, all you Wizards and Tar Heels.