I went to see Shaq.
Watch him attaq. He’s got the knaq.
And then we went smaq!
Hey, I’m not kidding here. There we were, Corky Meinecke and I, at the Palace to cover the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal, check the kid out, see whether he’s all he’s cracked up to be — and next thing you know, he’s racing for a loose ball, heading right toward us, all 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds of him, and wrapped around him is the leaping gnome, Dennis Rodman, all 6-8, 225 pounds of him, also going for the ball, and Corky and I are saying: “Oh, they’ll stop . . . they’ll, uh, stop . . . they’ll . . . they’re NOT STOPPPING! MAYDAY!” Now, I should say right here, even before he became part of our furniture, the Shaq, only 20 years old, had already been impressive. He won the opening tap. Then dropped a lay-up over Bill Laimbeer. Then grabbed a rebound over Rodman. Then Orlando Woolridge tried to drive and Shaq knocked him down with one arm. His left arm. And he has a bandage on that arm.
And then he scored and rebounded and blocked and then he ate the backboard and attacked New York City and breathed fire and crushed taxicabs and Godzilla came from outer space and they fought and Shaq won and a lot of Japanese actors said, “Oh! He is ve-ry pow-er-ful!” (Mouths keep moving.) . . .
Well, that’s what it felt like. No. Wait. I can tell you exactly what it felt like, because, as I said, right there, in the third quarter, the Shaq, obviously taking a shine to us, decided to let Corky and me get close to him, very close, extremely close, as in, “Hey, Shaq, had onions for lunch?”
Or, “CORKY! ABANDON SHIP!”
Duck! But not too soon . . .
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You see two tons of fun flying your way, why not flee? Dive? Hit the dirt? Well, getting attacked — or attaqed — by flying bodies is one of the risks you take sitting courtside. So is the chance that the TV cameras catch you picking your nose.
But knowing this — the TV part, especially — you never want to duck too quickly, because if the players running for the loose ball actually do stop, you’re left under the table, for no reason, looking like a little boy hiding from his mother, and you have to stay there the whole night until everyone goes home, including the janitors, or else risk embarrassment not felt since Milli Vanilli.
So, naturally, being real men, Corky and I stayed put until the very last second, and then, showing the reflexes of your average household appliances, we tried to duck. Too late. And here came the Shaq-Worm sandwich, flying, crashing the table, kapow! Kabong! KABLOWWWWEE! Chairs flew! Papers scattered! And we were on the floor, and I looked down, and there was Shaq, at my feet, like a beached whale.
(What do you say at a moment like this? “Hey, big fella?” Or, “So, you covered for this?” Or maybe, “Oh! You are ve-ry pow-er-ful!”)
Who knows? Thankfully, no one was hurt, even though it took Rodman a minute to remember what country he was in. Fact is, even when they were rolling on top of Corky, both Shaq and Rodman were complete gentlemen. And when Worm finally rose, he held out a ripped notepad and said: “Whose is this?”
Laimbeer, on the other hand, was his usual compassionate self. He looked at Shaq and Dennis, lying on the floor, then looked angrily at Corky and said:
“Corky! You’re supposed to catch him!”
Now you tell us. Something bad had to happen
But this is the way it goes when you play the Shaq. You can’t always do what you want. And then he lands on you. For most of the night, he swung his jumbo jet body around, slammed home dunks and slapped away shots. He is good at slapping away shots. Once, when Woolridge tried him, he wiped the shot away so completely, I bet if you check the tape, the play is erased.
But the Shaq is not perfect. And he is not unbeatable. For one thing, he launches free throws like a tennis machine spits out balls. And Wednesday night, in a close game, when his team truly needed him, he fouled out.
And the Magic lost.
“Could you feel his strength?” I asked Laimbeer, who helped hold Shaq to a below-average 17 points, 11 rebounds.
“Yeah. I felt it when his elbow hit my jaw.”
“What were you thinking when you left the ground?” I asked Rodman.
“I shut my eyes. I was holding 300 pounds, so something bad had to happen.”
“Hey, Corky,” I said. “You all right?”
“Of course, Mom,” he said. “Don’t let the school bus leave without me, OK?”
So we’ll have to work with Corky. And his computer. And his notepad, which is history. But hey. Who needs notes when you have memories? And bruises. So when we look back on Shaquille O’Neal’s Palace debut, I think we can say: We came, we saw, we provided a cushion.
I expect a thanq-you note.
(Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book, “Live Albom III,” at 7 tonight at Book Nook, Allen Park; noon Friday, Mickey’s, in Detroit; Saturday, 1 p.m., B. Dalton’s, Macomb Mall, and 3:30 p.m., Barnes & Noble, Rochester Hills.)