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Vandal defaces Shaq's 20,000-point memento
By Marcos Bretón -- Bee Sports Columnist
Published 6:33 p.m. PST Friday, March 21, 2003
The Los Angeles Lakers were angry when they left Sacramento Thursday night, but it wasn't only because they lost to the Kings 107-99.
On a night Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal scored his 20,000th career point, the Lakers were upset because someone at Arco Arena defaced the game ball presented to O'Neal by writing "Shaq is an asshole" on it.
John Black, the Lakers publicity director, said he first noticed the writing on the ball immediately after the game, when he said he took possession of it from NBA referee Danny Crawford.
"It's one thing to support your team, but to write on a ball that's going to go on someone's mantle is not cool," Black said.
"Who knows who did it."
On Friday, Kings officials said they asked the Lakers to return the defaced ball to Sacramento so the team can perform handwriting analysis on it to determine if Kings employees were responsible for writing on the ball.
Feelings toward O'Neal have been running high in Sacramento since the hulking center made disparaging remarks about Kings guard Mike Bibby in the days leading up to Thursday's game.
In his typical taunting manner, O'Neal had criticized Bibby's recent selection to Team USA, saying Bibby didn't deserve an honor that should have gone to Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers. Further, O'Neal called Bibby "a Cub Scout" and justified his remarks by claiming that Bibby had done little to distinguish himself in his career until last year's NBA playoffs and so therefore didn't deserve to be on the U.S. national team.
Though Bibby declined to respond to O'Neal's taunts, they got a great deal of attention in the news media, angered some of Bibby's teammates and were clearly on the minds of fans during Thursday's game. In fact, O'Neal was booed when the public address announcer announced that he'd reached the 20,000 career point mark.
And once the game ended, Lakers officials say they found the writing on the ball. But that wasn't the only post-game trouble involving O'Neal.
As the Lakers walked to their team bus in a restricted area for friends and family of Kings players, a man began yelling at O'Neal, Black said.
"Did the person cross the line? Probably," Black said.
"The issue (that led to the verbal confrontation) was the comments Shaq made about Bibby. It was obvious that they took issue with what Shaq said."
Kings publicity director Troy Hanson said the man was "a friend of a player." Though Hanson wouldn't confirm it was a friend of Bibby's, he wouldn't deny it either. "You can probably guess whose friend he was," Hanson said.
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