Trials could begin soon for two Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant faces rape charges in an Eagle, Colo., court. And Shaquille O'Neal faces the trial of his basketball career on NBA courts.
Shaq has lots to prove—that he can again be the game's greatest center, that the Lakers have always been his team and Bryant's mess can't destroy it, that he's not the flabby Sugar Shaq of last season but the Super Shaq from three years before.
The prosecution (me) called Shaquille Rashaun O'Neal to the stand (last week before he went to training camp).
Is Kobe innocent?
"I don't know. I wasn't there. I don't know what happened. I have faith in the American justice system. But I'm not gonna talk about him this season in interviews."
But can the Kobe fiasco ruin the Lakers' season?
"It could make us or break us. But we have three top, cunning veterans—Karl [Malone], Gary [Payton] and me. We'll help the younger guys get through this. They ain't gonna get tricked. But I don't wanna hear any more from younger guys like I been hearin'. You know, talkin' like they're movin' up a notch because one of the generals went down. Nuhuh. We ain't doin' it that way."
Is it time to prove to the world that this was your team all along?
"I don't care whose team y'all think it is. Kobe needs me, and I need him. But I know one thing—I'm the general. I'm Colin Powell. Anything goes wrong in Laker Nation, they blame me."
Last season they blamed you. People said you waited too long in the off-season to have toe surgery. Phil Jackson said you were out of shape. Did that bother you?