First, Shaq sat. To take a load off his surgically repaired left knee, he settled into a chair outside the Miami Heat locker room on Tuesday.
Then he spoke barely above a whisper into a cluster of microphones in front of his face. For those straining to hear, the message was nonetheless clear: Shaquille O'Neal's latest injury should not be interpreted as a sign that he's in decline.
"They've been saying that the last 10 years," said O'Neal, speaking publicly for the first time since his surgery on Nov. 19. "I'm going to stick to my formula. I know what I've been doing, and nobody does it better, even at the tender age of 34."
O'Neal has been sidelined since Nov. 12, when he tore knee cartilage against Houston, and he's expected to be out until at least Dec. 23.
A year ago, when O'Neal sprained his ankle in Miami's home opener and missed 18 games, there was talk his body was breaking down. He recovered, sat out only five more games and led the Heat to the National Basketball Association title for his fourth championship ring.
Now that he's in the middle of another layoff, rumblings about slippage in his productivity have resurfaced.
Miami's sub-.500 record in O'Neal's absence suggests his value remains high. The Heat went 10-13 without him a year ago, and they're 4-6 without him this month.
He's expected to remain on the bench for a while. The injury originally was diagnosed as a hyperextended knee, and O'Neal said he was surprised when an MRI exam revealed the need for surgery.
His layoff is projected to be four to six weeks following the operation, and O'Neal has yet to resume running.