"If we eat fast, I'll quadruple that."
You cannot imagine how fast you can get a few sausage-and-cheese omelettes at Jerry's Famous Deli if you put your mind to it.
Yes, Shaq is happy in L.A. The city seems to have given him room to swing his 45-inch arms. A military kid, he moved around a lot—Newark, Jersey City, West Germany, San Antonio—but L.A. is really his home. He has come here every summer for the past eight years, since he was 16, just to hang, to work out with Magic or to make movies. One year he came out and sold trailer-park lots. One year he did nothing but ride around in a friend's Volvo. Now he is here with a wad of 100's in his pocket and a big lopsided grin on his face.
"I think he's happier here, in an environment where he can flourish," says Leonard Armato. "He's not under an unfair magnifying glass. If he misses a free throw, O.K., he missed a free throw, and the press can rip him for that, but not for more than that. He's not being unjustly criticized down to the smallest thing."
In Orlando small things seemed to pile up on the big man. He hated the poll the Orlando Sentinel took in his last season, asking, "Is Shaq worth $115 million?" and he hated the predictable answer: 91.3% said, Hell no. He hated the power struggle with his coach, Brian Hill. He hated being such a big fish in a medium-sized tank. In L.A. he is one of hundreds of very big fish in the biggest and brightest fish tank in the world.
"I never dreamed I'd be playing for the Lakers," Shaq says in a rare quiet moment. "When I was a kid, I hardly had any self-esteem. Did you know I skipped first grade? And it was like there were some things I wasn't good at. I used to be coloring and thinking I was doing pretty good, and then I'd look at the kid next to me, and his drawing would be so much nicer, you know? Neater. All inside the lines. When I was 13, I was 6'7" and couldn't dunk. And the kids would say, 'Man, you so soft! You can't even dunk!'
"I've always listened to the iffers. They'd be like, 'Yeah, you doin' good in high school, but if you get to the McDonald's All-America game you ain't gonna do s—-!' And then it was, 'Yeah, you an All-American at LSU, but if you get to the pros, you won't be nothin'!' And now it's, 'Yeah, you got all these movies and ads and rap CDs and stuff, but you ain't never won a championship.' Well, I'm glad I got my iffers, because they keep me hungry."
PACIFIC THEATRE, EL SEGUNDO
Now wait a minute. How did Shaq and the Men of Unclear Purpose find a movie theater with nobody in the seats?
"I bought every ticket, bro," says Shaq, smiling lopsidedly. "I said, 'How many seats in your theater?' And the lady said, 'Two hundred.' And I said, 'I'll take 'em all!' Seven bucks a ticket!"