O'Neal to sit for three tilts

Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2002

NEW YORK -- For once, Shaquille O'Neal can be thankful for his poor aim.

The Los Angeles Lakers star drew a three-game suspension Monday from the NBA for throwing a punch and fighting with Chicago center Brad Miller.

O'Neal actually threw at least two punches, the first of which barely missed the side of Miller's head. Had the roundhouse right from the 340-pound, 7-foot center connected with full force, it's safe to assume that Miller would have been injured and O'Neal would have been facing a much longer suspension.

NBA vice president Stu Jackson, who issued the suspension and a $15,000 fine, would not comment.

O'Neal did not speak to reporters after the Lakers practiced in El Segundo, Calif. He will miss games Monday against Memphis, Wednesday against Miami and Saturday against San Antonio in the first meeting of the season between those teams.

''Shaq feels embarrassed about it, I'm sure,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ''(But) the nature of a man is to defend himself. He told me he was sorry it happened and he would keep it under control. I told him I don't condone what he did, he hurt the team.''

The suspension will cost O'Neal about $800,000 in lost salary. He will be eligible to return Jan. 22 against Denver.

The NBA also suspended Miller for one game for committing the flagrant foul that led to the fight. Bulls forward Charles Oakley was suspended for two games -- one for accumulating too many flagrant foul points; the other for his simultaneous flagrant foul against O'Neal.

Miller and Oakley fouled O'Neal hard as he received the ball in the low post with 2:44 remaining in the fourth quarter Saturday night. O'Neal immediately went after Miller with his fists, leading to a wild melee in front of the Chicago bench.

Miller and Oakley had already committed several hard fouls against O'Neal earlier in the game, which was won by the Bulls in overtime.

Oakley was fined $10,000, and Miller was fined $7,500.

''The league made it's decision and obviously we respect the decision,'' Bulls general manager Jerry Krause said. ''We don't think our players are dirty players.''

Like many NBA players have done, Oakley and Miller justified the hard fouls by saying O'Neal is so strong that he can repel anything less than a hard foul and still manage to get his shot off. Other NBA players have used the same strategy throughout O'Neal's career, in part to take advantage of his poor free throw shooting.

The suspension was announced after the Lakers finished their morning shootaround. Coach Phil Jackson said he thought O'Neal would get a one-game suspension. Jackson also said that after viewing the videotape that he believed O'Neal had intentionally missed Miller with the punch.

''For a guy that didn't get a punch connected, I never saw a punch landed, it was pretty extreme,'' Jackson said of the suspension before Monday night's game against the Grizzlies at Staples Center in Los Angeles. ''(But) we're not going to complain. I think we'll accept this and say it's fair.''

Jackson also said O'Neal, who recently spent five games on the injured list because of a pain caused by an arthritic right big toe and a sore left little toe, accepted the suspension.

Asked if his sore feet was a factor in what happened, Jackson replied: ''That's a possibility, but it's really not an excuse.''

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said he spoke with O'Neal for about 30 minutes Monday.

''Clearly, he's concerned,'' Kupchak said. ''He expressed his frustration, he's remorseful for what he did.''

Kupchak said he could understand O'Neal's frustration, but made it clear he didn't approve of O'Neal's actions.

''As an organization, we don't condone that type of activity,'' Kupchak said. ''He could get injured, he could injure someone else.''

This is the second suspension for an on-court altercation in O'Neal's career. Early in the 1997-98 season, he was suspended one game for slapping Utah center Greg Ostertag following a morning shootaround.

Jackson said he believes the league needs to address the hard fouls being committed, especially against O'Neal.

The trend has become so common that it has earned a nickname: the Hack-a-Shaq defense.

''Shaq credits me with starting it in the 1993-94 season,' said Jackson, who was coaching the Bulls at the time. ''I say no. I never said to flagrant foul him.''

O'Neal has always shown restraint when he has been fouled throughout his career, but the fouls the Bulls were committing -- hitting him near his neck and face -- seemed to infuriate him.

''There's only so much a person can take as far as physical abuse,'' Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant said. ''I'm not saying fighting is an option, it's a last resort. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.''

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