DENVER (AP) — Primping, preening, playful and preposterous, The Big Entertainer gave the NBA All-Star game a supersized dose of personality — though he wouldn’t go so far as to do it while wearing a shoe phone.
For the second straight year, Shaquille O’Neal made people laugh, applaud and appreciate his oversized way of doing everything, infusing an otherwise nondescript All-Star game Sunday night 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 — 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 360-pound, 7-foot behemoth who was making his 12th appearance in the league’s showcase event.
O’Neal’s display of showmanship 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,” 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 they 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.
When he went to the free throw line in the first quarter after driving around Yao Ming and dunking, he held the ball in his right hand, placed his left hand on his hip — striking a pose, as the fashionistas say — as he shot the ball one-handed.
Naturally, given O’Neal’s history as a poor foul shooter, he missed.
O’Neal went to the line once more, midway through the third quarter, and displayed his usual form — or lack thereof — in missing two more free throws as the ball came off his hand with sidespin on the first one and topspin on the second.
The West never pulled close, and the game ended with O’Neal getting to attempt a 3-pointer.
It missed, but it didn’t matter. The showman had gotten the last moment in the spotlight.