Shaq Just Wants To Play Ball

Shaquille O'Neal has plenty to keep him busy, but he'd rather be playing basketball.

He's got a new album out, he's got what he identified as "stuff" going in Los Angeles and Orlando, Fla., and he's joined a group headed by entertainment executive Michael Ovitz that's trying bring the NFL back to Los Angeles.

But Monday, he worried about the NBA game's image if the owners' lockout lasts too long.

"The fans would be very upset and our game would be slightly tarnished like baseball and hockey when they left their fans," O'Neal said. "I don't think anybody is ready to handle something like that."

Owners and the players union are resuming negotiations in New York on Tuesday with uncertain hopes of a quick settlement.

"Truthfully speaking, I wish this thing would hurry up and get over," O'Neal said, still sweating after a pickup game at Westside Tennis Center, the Houston Rockets' practice facility.

"We don't need to alienate the fans," O'Neal said. "We've already done that for the preseason and we don't need to alienate them for the regular season. Both parties are very stubborn. They need to get in a room and get this thing settled."

O'Neal is among about 40 NBA players working out at the Rockets' practice facility. Although players are locked out by the owners, players are allowed at Westside because the facility is privately owned.

"I'm with the players and I think Isiah (Thomas) said that maybe the owners need to get better managers, better at managing money and picking players and personnel," O'Neal said.

If the labor dispute eats deep into the regular season, O'Neal fears fan backlash.

"Once you start this, 20,000-30,000 fans at the arenas becomes 8,000-9,000," O'Neal said. "That's a problem no one is ready to address."

O'Neal, who owns a home in suburban Rosenberg, has worked out at the Rockets' facility occasionally this offseason.

"I work out all over, I have a gym at my house and I try to shoot, but I don't do a lot of running," O'Neal said. "I play a lot of games in the regular season and get beat up."

O'Neal is in competition with Houston businessman Bob McNair, who is trying to bring the NFL back to Houston.

"I sure am," O'Neal said, laughing. "So, hopefully the city of Houston won't get a football team. Business is business. You've got to be tough."

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