by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It is not for me, as a man who only comes up to Shaquille O’Neal’s belly button, to judge the words coming out of his mouth. I can barely hear the words coming out of his mouth.

Same goes for 7-foot-2 Dikembe Mutombo. With him, I can hear what he’s saying, I just can’t understand it. I know the man speaks five languages. My question is: Is English one of them?

But hey, who am I to get in the middle of a big man battle in the NBA Finals? Two giants bumping, shoving and pounding on each other — and that’s just during the press conferences.

SHAQ: “I wish he’d stand up and play me like a man instead of flopping and crying.”

DIKEMBE: “I hope he didn’t mean that. If he did …I really don’t give a damn.”

SHAQ: “I said what I said and I mean it. Challenge me.”

DIKEMBE: “I don’t complain about the blood I’ve been swallowing each game.”

SHAQ: “Treat me like a game of checkers and play me.”

DIKEMBE: “That sounds so stupid.”

SHAQ: “Treat me like Sega and play me.”

DIKEMBE: “I am not flopping.”

SHAQ: “Plaaaaay me!”

Ding-ding! That’s it. Rounds over. Go to your neutral corners and get some water . . .

A study in contrasts

Now, if you are the NBA, you should love this little feud. First of all, it beats Michael Jordan feuding with himself. Besides, you couldn’t have more different protagonists.

In one corner, you have O’Neal, who was born in Newark. In the other corner, you have Mutombo, who was born in the Congo.

O’Neal, we know, is 29. Mutombo, we are told, is 34. Some feel he has underwear older than that.

O’Neal spent one summer working on a rap record. Mutombo spent one summer in Africa, getting malaria.

O’Neal is barely audible. Mutombo talks like he’s calling audibles.

O’Neal’s middle name is Rashaun. Mutombo’s middle name is one or all of the following: Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacque Wamutombo. (Personally, I don’t understand why Dikembe, who obviously chose to go with just two of his names, didn’t pick “Jean Jacque.” He could play basketball and design hair products.)

Anyhow, here in the Philly-L.A. showdown, Shaq and “Jacque” are taking on each other’s pride. Shaq revels in the fact that he can score at will. He says the only thing that can stop his game is the NBA rules.

“I like to punish people who think they can stop me one-on-one,” he says. “I can’t even stop myself one-on-one.”

Mutombo, meanwhile, prides himself on his defense. He is the Defensive Player of the Year, and he likes to wag a warning finger at players whose shots he swats away.

Of course, he hasn’t done a lot of finger-wagging this series.

“I am in the middle of a war,” he says.

Felix and Oscar, except taller

If the NBA is smart, it will not discourage this simmering feud, which was aggravated Sunday in Game 3, after Shaq got called for four offensive fouls and fouled out. Dikembe didn’t notice, Shaq claims, because he was too busy throwing himself into the air with a phony pained expression.

But Dikembe says he is not backing down. And while he has only scored about half of what O’Neal has tallied in this series, he is staying pretty close to Shaq in rebounds, and is drawing the whistles, fairly or unfairly.

“Do not be surprised if there is a Game 7,” Mutombo says.

Personally, I don’t want to see this end after seven games. I think they’re onto something here. With Dikembe’s regal style (he is the most famous face in his home country and holds a degree in linguistics from Georgetown) and Shaq’s laid-back cool (he has a Superman tattoo, and goes by the rap moniker Shaq Diesel), they could produce an NBA version of “The Odd Couple.”

Two men, sharing a 10,000-square-foot mansion . . .

SHAQ: S’up?

DIKEMBE: You do not know the ways of battle.

SHAQ: G’wan.

DIKEMBE: I follow the path of a warrior for ultimate quest.

SHAQ: Yeah-huh.

DIKEMBE: My mouth is full of blood I am swallowing for the effort of my country.

SHAQ: For real? Damn.

DIKEMBE: Do you wish to partake of nutritional substance in a commercial setting of tables and countertops.

SHAQ: Play me.

DIKEMBE: In the ways of battle?

SHAQ: Naw, man. Sega.

Think of the possibilities! Think of the residuals! Think of the …wardrobe!

Anyhow, we should enjoy this while we can. It’s been a long time since two big men feuded in the NBA. At least on the court. It may not be “The Sopranos,” but it is certainly “The Bassos.” And I, for one, don’t want to miss a word.

Somebody get me a ladder.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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