The good news: After 26 long years your Dallas Mavericks are in the NBA Finals. The bad news: Shaquille O'Neal is coming to town. Whether it's been dunking on Shawn Bradley, mocking Erick Dampier, flirting with Mark Cuban or clowning around with Don Nelson, nobody has tormented the Mavs like the behemoth Miami Heat center. Cuban had an interest in trading for The Big Diesel two summers ago, but the Lakers weren't about to trade him to a Western Conference team. (And, for the record, there was never a Dirk-for-Shaq offer on the table.) Not that Shaq doesn't like Dallas. On the contrary. He always throws lavish parties when in town, has a peculiar, hilarious relationship with KTCK-AM's (1310, The Ticket) Corby Davidson and has long enjoyed using the Mavs as his favorite whipping boys-punch lines. Of Bradley, Shaq once quipped, "He's my favorite player to pose with for pictures," meaning, of course, Bradley was usually the flailing, helpless dork getting dunked on in Shaq posters.
Of Dampier, Shaq once said, "I felt like Erick Dampier, and that stinks." Dampier, according to Shaq, picked the fight when he proclaimed himself "the second-best center in the NBA." Shaq last summer said Damp would be dominant in the WNBA, but not the NBA. And then there's Hack-a-Shaq, invented by Nellie to intentionally foul O'Neal and force him to shoot free throws late in games. Shaq responded by calling Nellie a "clown coach," and Nellie trumped him by showing up to a 2001 game wearing a foam red clown nose.
This year, however, is different. The Mavericks have the big bodies of Dampier, DeSagana Diop and D.J. Mbenga to bang with Shaq and speed on the perimeter to make him run. In other words, Shaq's chumps will soon be NBA champs. --Richie Whitt