LOS ANGELES – While the Timberwolves have waited 28 years for just the right recipient and occasion, the Los Angeles Lakers unveiled a fourth statue outside Staples Center commemorating their franchise’s former greatness.
A few hours before their current team played the Wolves with more lottery balls at stake, the Lakers honored Shaquille O’Neal by placing his bronzed image outside along with those of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West, and famed announcer Chick Hearn.
Abdul-Jabbar, West, former teammate Kobe Bryant and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson all spoke before the hanging statue depicting O’Neal hanging two-fisted from the rim was revealed. Johnson did, as well, by video message because as the franchise’s new basketball boss, he was out scouting the Kentucky-UCLA NCAA tournament game.
Many other former teammates and dignitaries — including Lakers coach Luke Walton, Minnesota’s own Devean George, former Wolves player Mike Madsen and former Wolves shooting coach Mike Penberthy — attended the ceremony. They honored a superstar who also played for Orlando, Miami, Boston, Phoenix and Cleveland, but will also be remembered for winning three of his four NBA titles as a Laker.
“An all-time great,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He was dominant, unstoppable in the post. He probably doesn’t get credit for the way he passed the ball. His shot-blocking, his rebounding, the championships, those numbers speak for themselves. People remember the end of his career when he was hurt, but most of his career he was not only big and strong, he was such a great athlete on top of it.
“The way he could run and jump and change direction and do so many things, he was dominant, particularly when he was here with the Lakers.”
Be true to your school
Wolves young star Karl Anthony-Towns wore a Kentucky T-shirt to Friday’s morning shoot-around, but teammate Shabazz Muhammad forgot to counter with a UCLA one of his own before the two schools met Friday in an NCAA tournament showdown.
“I told Karl that he’ll have to wear a UCLA jersey when we get the victory,” Muhammad said after the morning’s shoot held on his alma mater campus.
Towns and Ricky Rubio accompanied Wolves guard Tyus Jones to Wednesday’s Minnesota State High School 4A boys’ basketball tournament game, but Jones will miss his younger brother Tre and Apple Valley High’s title game Saturday night against Champlin Park.
His brother had a triple-double while starring in Thursday’s semifinal.
“I wish I was there, but obviously I can’t be,” said Tyus Jones, who plays at Portland Saturday night. “I’m handling my business, and I know Tre will handle his business.”
Just a big kid
Towns studied O’Neal’s game when he was young, but what he appreciated most was the sense of humor from a big guy who alternately called himself the Big Aristotle and the Big Baryshnikov.
“He took the game very seriously, but he had fun,” Towns said. “He was always joking, comical, goofing. I was more on that side. My mother loves him. ... That was her crush.”