He called his employers fat, dumb and dishonest.
And The Big Agitator was just warming up.
''There ain't no ifs,'' Shaquille O'Neal said last week about chances he would return to the Lakers next season. ''I want to play for a team that's willing to win.''
Some people burn bridges. Shaq takes a blowtorch to his. The last time he put a town in his rearview mirror, it was Orlando in 1996. As soon as O'Neal arrived in Los Angeles, he made a point of reminding the Magic that for all the things the money they lavished on him in four seasons didn't buy loyalty, appreciation, an NBA championship it wouldn't even guarantee his silence.
''I'm just glad to be playing now,'' Shaq said at the time, ''for people who know the game and know the business.''
Similar as those sentiments sound, the difference between then and now is considerable. O'Neal, at 32, is eight years older, wiser, richer and a three-time champion. But unlike last time, he doesn't hold all the cards. O'Neal is under contract in Los Angeles for two more seasons at close to $30 million per and while management has indicated a willingness to trade him, the Lakers won't comply unless they get value in return. A deal that would satisfy all the parties involved won't come along easily, if at all.
If you thought Los Angeles' just-ended season was packed with infighting, backbiting and random acts of mindlessness, stay tuned. The breakup promises more of everything.
''It's going to be a funny summer,'' O'Neal said. ''Everyone's going to take care of their own business and do what's best for them.''
What a funny way to run a team. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, owner Jerry Buss has already decided what was best for the Lakers was to hang onto Kobe Bryant at all costs. Never mind that it meant alienating Shaq and parting ways with coach Phil Jackson, even though Buss' daughter, Jeanie, the club's executive vice president of business operations, is Jackson's longtime girlfriend.
And forget for a moment that building a club around a maddeningly egotistical player presents a whole new challenge. What seems really shortsighted about Buss' loyalty is how little Bryant so far has pledged in return.
He can opt out of his contract, shop himself during the first two weeks of July and Buss won't be allowed to make a counteroffer until July 14. And while the Lakers can re-sign Bryant for more years and more money than any other club can offer seven years for $140 million vs. six years for $90 million chances are their roster won't be any more set than it is now. Plus, Bryant is scheduled to go on trial in late August, leaving his focus and availability in question and likely causing the distractions that plagued Los Angeles last season to spill over into the next one.
O'Neal said he sensed things would turn ''funny'' when he rebuffed Buss' request to take a pay cut months ago, but his dissatisfaction with management dates all the way back to the departure of former Lakers general manager Jerry West years ago.
So when general manager Mitch Kupchak said the Lakers would do anything to keep Bryant and to accommodate O'Neal if he demanded a trade, Shaq canceled his exit interview and started sharpening his tongue. In his latest outburst, he accused the team of growing too ''fat'' on past successes to keep winning, being unable to recognize what personnel moves need to be made, and preparing to blame him for the chaos that's descending on the franchise.
''They said it's about the money. It's not about the money,'' O'Neal said. ''It's about honesty, and the honesty me and Jerry West had. That's been gone for four years now.''
Shaq is hardly blameless in what, like the bust-up of Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls' dynasty a half-dozen years ago, figures to be a long, sad decline. He did less conditioning with advancing age instead of more and it was telling in these finals, when the Pistons tested O'Neal's stamina and found him wanting.
On the other hand, O'Neal is still the best center in the NBA, maybe the best ever. But because Buss has already chased off the best executive and coach in NBA history, shipping Shaq out of town is hardly out of the question. O'Neal, in fact, is daring him to do it.
''They say I'm getting older. Of course, I am. But can't nobody mess with me,'' he said. ''I'm like toilet paper, Pampers and toothpaste. I'm definitely proven to be effective.''
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.