It is so very loud in here. "I'M SORRY?" I shout.
"MLLNGHROSE, THZZWHR I RLLY CRNK INGUP!"
"MELROSE IS WHERE YOU REALLY CRANK IT UP?"
Oh god. We are turning onto Melrose. He reaches for the little joystick that controls the colossal power of the world's crudest sound system. "That's O.K.," I say nervously. "You already—"
But it is too late. The system is cranked, and there is nothing that can be done by any human, save Shaq, to uncrank it. Arm hairs stand. The volume numbers climb...20...people on the street look up in shock...35...the heads of old men in barbershops snap up in horror...42...I am trapped inside Dick Vitale's larynx.
Shaq rolls his window down and grins wildly at the stunned people on the street. Two blocks later, he turns the dial down to 3. "I love to see the reactions, bro," he says. "Old people just hate it."
Cripes, it's loud in here. This is because Shaq has just spun a 360-degree vortex move ending with a Herman Munster jam in the slack-jawed face of Mike Brown of the Phoenix Suns. This is last Friday night, Shaq's first night back after missing 28 games in rehab. He is only supposed to play a little, but he gets carried away, ding-ding-dinging up a game-high 24 points along with 11 rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots. The Lakers win 114-98, flushing the Suns' winning streak at 11, and all is right with the great Los Angeles basin and one very big knee. Shaq is baq. On Sunday he nails a baseline jumper at the buzzer to beat the Utah Jazz 100—98.
"It's like the '80s are here again," says an usher. Since Shaq came to L.A., stars are leather-to-leather once more at the Forum (so far this season: Jack Nicholson, Jim Carrey, Arsenio Hall—he's back!—Cindy Crawford, Garry Shandling, Denzel Washington, Brandy, Sharon Stone, Dennis Miller, Pete Sampras, Kevin Costner, Evander Holyfield, the usual assortment of Baldwins, Robert Shapiro and everybody else you can think of from the O.J. trial).
All-Star swingman Eddie Jones has been terrific. Rookie center Travis Knight has been nice. But Shaq is the main reason L.A. is hot. No Laker has scored like this since Abdul-Jabbar in 1980-81. No Laker has rebounded like this since Abdul-Jabbar in 1978-79. No Laker has blocked shots at this rate since Abdul-Jabbar in 1979-80. Shaq is the leader of the team: He climbed all over La-Z-Boy forward Elden Campbell early in the year, he's chaperoning rookie guard Kobe Bryant through his teenage years ("Can you believe how loud that stereo is?" says Bryant), and he's keeping point guard Nick Van Exel somewhere in the vicinity of this planet. "We had heard he wouldn't do much voicing of his opinion here," Lakers coach Del Harris says of Shaq. "But he has."