Posted: Monday May 23, 2005 11:50AM; Updated: Monday May 23, 2005 11:50AM
Stan Van Gundy can't help but smile when he sees Shaquille O'Neal in uniform and ready to play.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
SCENE: South Beach, Miami, inside a hidden laboratory.
The room is dark, and several attendants buzz around an operating table. Atop the table is a hulking figure. A spot on his right thigh pulses an incandescent glow.
From the darkness, a droid appears and runs a claw over the shining spot, which immediately heals. The droid then finishes sheathing the figure in black (with red and yellow trim). From above this giant, a robotic arm swings over and places a mask over his face. It snaps shut with a click, and we hear that unmistakable breathing kick in.
Cooooooooo ... heeeeeeeeee.
Cooooooooo ... heeeeeeeeee.
(Come on, you know how it sounds!)
The beast sits up, stretches his arms and opens his fingers all the way out, as if to make sure they still work. Out of the shadows, a hooded figure emerges.
DARTH VAN GUNDY: Arise, my son. It is time to ascend to our throne.
DARTH SHAQ: (standing to his full 7-foot-3) Where have I been, master? The last thing I remember is Jermaine O'Neal flying toward me under the hoop, and his knee causing me immense pain in my thigh. And did I play against New Jersey after that? The pain was so ... mindbending.
DARTH VAN GUNDY: You have been hidden, as we finished healing your body. Emperor Riley was in charge of your rehabilitation. You're not as young as you used to be, my apprentice.
DARTH SHAQ: Tell me about it, homey. I mean, yes, I understand, master. Please, tell me, how did things go while I was gone? Did the revolution go as planned?
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DARTH VAN GUNDY: Indeed it did, my center. Even without you, we had no problems vanquishing the Washington uprising. Young Master Wade was tremendous, averaging 31 points per game in each of our four wins. Even though most observers thought we would struggle without your presence in our lineup, we won all four games easily.
DARTH SHAQ: Who is our next opponent, my lord?
DARTH VAN GUNDY: The Pistons.
DARTH SHAQ: Hmmm ... an interesting foe. How do you think we will fare against them?
DARTH VAN GUNDY: To begin with, we shall have the element of surprise on our side. Nobody is expecting you to be at full strength.
DARTH SHAQ: What!? (His voice echoes throughout the hallways as he slams his fist against a metal desk.) How dare they? Don't they know you can never count Darth Shaq out? I vanquished Kobe Skywalker and the Lakers to the Lottery, didn't I? The stupidity of the public amuses me.
DARTH VAN GUNDY: And me as well, my son. Most observers only remember the Lakers losing during the Finals last season, or our dynasty going 1-2 against Miami this season.
DARTH SHAQ: Yes, but they forget I did not play in one of the losses. And in the other loss, I went for 24 and 15. In our one win, it was young Master Wade who was tremendous, registering a triple-double. So how will we win this series?
DARTH VAN GUNDY: To begin with, we will establish an interior presence, not only through your play but also that of Masters Udonis Haslem and Alonzo Mourning. Our opponent doesn't even realize that Haslem is averaging 11.5 rebounds per game during the playoffs, or that he's a free agent this summer and is treating these games as a job audition.
DARTH SHAQ: (sits back down on the operating table) What about Detroit's perimeter offensive? They seem to have many weapons from the outside and midrange, no?
DARTH VAN GUNDY: Ahh, a wise assessment, Darth Shaq. I believe Master Wade gives us an advantage over Jedi Rip Hamilton, and Masters Eddie and Damon Jones are each excellent players. Also, while you were out, we received excellent contributions from Master Keyon Dooling.
DARTH SHAQ: This is crucial, I understand. How about Detroit's battle plan? Isn't Yoda Brown renowned as one of the greatest leaders in history?
DARTH VAN GUNDY: Wait, did we accidentally wipe the Olympics from your memory? Yoda Brown didn't even utilize Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Similarly, he's been very inconsistent throughout this postseason. Except for Mace Lindsay Hunter and the Jedi Antonio McDyess, nobody's received consistent playing time. Their reserves are weak. They haven't even suspected our undercover agent, the Dark(o) Sith.
DARTH SHAQ: Everything sounds perfectly aligned, my lord. What could cause us to lose?
DARTH VAN GUNDY: A great question, my apprentice. The one Jedi I am most worried about is Tayshaun Prince. When we beat Detroit earlier this season, Prince was not a factor offensively. Prince can do everything, from scoring to passing to perimeter defense. The force is strong in that one.
DARTH SHAQ: (stands) Well my lord, I can wait no longer. I'm ready to take total control, to show everyone that the world was mine from the beginning.
(They turn and walk away together down the hallway. As they leave, their voices trail off...)
DARTH SHAQ: Oh, and how did Darth Maul Miller's assignment in Indiana work out? Did he really make everyone think he was retiring?
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Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at http://www.SLAMonline.com.