Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Shaq plays to the crowd

HOOPS He danced as he was introduced, struck a pose before missing a foul shot and goofed with the rap stars and hip-hop artists who lined the front-row seats across from the Eastern Conference bench

AP , DENVER, COLORADOAP, DENVER, COLORADOAP, DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINACONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Allen Iverson of the 76ers on a fast break during the NBA All-Star game at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado on Sunday. Iverson was given the NBA All-Star Most Valuable Player award as the East All-Stars defeated the All-Stars West, 125-115.

PHOTO: EPA

The Shaq Shoe Phone was not the most outrageous thing displayed at the NBA All-Star game.

That distinction belonged to The Big Entertainer himself.

For the second straight year, Shaquille O'Neal made people laugh, applaud and appreciate his oversized way of doing everything, infusing Sunday night's otherwise nondescript All-Star game with just the right amount of precociousness.

He danced as he was introduced, struck a pose before missing a foul shot and goofed with the rap stars and hip-hop artists who lined the front-row seats across from the Eastern Conference bench.

All that showmanship didn't win O'Neal MVP honors -- that award went to Allen Iverson, who had 15 points, nine assists and five steals as the East beat the West 125-115. But if MVP stood for Most Vibrant Personality, this one was a runaway decided squarely in favor of the 162km, 2.13m behemoth who was making his 12th appearance in the league's showcase event.

"When I was young I was on punishment a lot and I used to watch a lot of TV, and I asked myself a question: `How come people like Mike? How come they like Magic? How come they like Bird? How come they don't like the big guys?'" O'Neal said, referring to former stars Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

"So I just throw a little bit of what they were doing. You smile, you act crazy and silly. And I think people like me because I'm different. I've always been a class clown type of guy. It comes natural."

O'Neal finished with 12 points, six rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals.

His showmanship displays came after he unveiled his size-22 red and white shoe phone in the locker room before the game. An actual working telephone mechanism is built into the sneaker, and an antenna pops out near the toes.

"It's big, you can take it anywhere, make people look at you," O'Neal said. "And it prevents muggers. Kick them right in the [behind] with that Shaq shoe phone.

"There's an addition at the top where you can pull out the strings and make it a Shaq-shoe handbag and phone all-in-one."

The silliness O'Neal displayed and the reception he received were in stark contrast to the way things went for his former teammate, Kobe Bryant.

Bryant finished with better numbers and was the most intense player on the court during the fourth quarter, but this show was clearly not his.

Bryant, who was accused of rape in Colorado two summers ago before the charges were dropped last September, was the only player booed during pre-game introductions. O'Neal, Iverson and Vince Carter received the loudest ovations, and O'Neal played to the crowd by strutting down the runway wearing a huge smile.

"Leave it to Shaq to do something like that," Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade said. "He's always doing something to keep fans involved."

O'Neal and Bryant ignored each other but exchanged hugs and hand slaps with the other starters as the players stood at the center circle for the opening tip. They first came into contact with each other midway through the quarter when O'Neal poked the ball away from Bryant as he drove, only to be called for a foul.

O'Neal nearly howled in disgust, yet another of the many contortions his face and body made throughout the night.

Allen Iverson, Most Valuable Player, was also Allen Iverson, Elder Statesman.

Feeling no need to take things over -- only to play hard, distribute and let other guys do their thing, Iverson was selected MVP of the All-Star game Sunday night, helping the East to a 125-115 victory.

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