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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bryant and Shaquille face to face

It has been a really long story, and now the longest trade in professional sports history is nearly over. We can say that Shaquille O'Neal brought something unexpected to Los Angeles Staples Center Monday night: A pregame greeting for former Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant.

The teams stretched during warm-ups, at that time O'Neal reached down to Bryant, who was being stretched by a trainer, and extended a hand. Is good to notice that this was O'Neal's first public acknowledgement of Bryant since the center left the Lakers in the 2004 offseason. The game ended too late for this edition of The Star.

After that encounter and during the pregame captains' meeting, O'Neal and Bryant embraced and shared a laugh. The eyes of the world were on them. The referee gave a wuick look. Kobe tapped Shaquille's head twice. When the video screen showed a second embrace, the crowd cheered, with Bryant raising his arm to acknowledge the ovation.

Both embraced just before the opening tip, leading to another ovation. Heat coach Pat Riley said he expected an eventual thaw. "One day, you've just got to move on," he thinks, "but it's an individual decision."

Bryant, with 37 points, is ascending. O'Neal might have a couple more memorable playoffs in him, but he is clearly descending. Other players wedged their way onto the stage Monday night, including Andrew Bynum, who was born when O'Neal was 15 years old.

Indeed, the Lakers did catch Miami at the end of a seven-match, 12-day trip, however they also looked new and vastly different from the distracted band that plodded through November. They even looked cleansed, ready for brand new questions, as they held off the Heat, 100-92.