NBA: Shaq vows to be back better than ever

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 7, 2006

Associated Press

MIAMI — First, Shaq sat. To take a load off his surgically repaired left knee, he settled into a chair outside the Miami Heat locker room Tuesday.

Then he spoke barely above a whisper into a cluster of microphones inches from his face. For those straining to hear, the message was nonetheless clear: Shaquille O’Neal’s latest injury should not be interpreted as a sign that he’s in decline.

“They’ve been saying that the last 10 years,” said O’Neal, speaking publicly for the first time since his surgery on Nov. 19. “I’m going to stick to my formula. I know what I’ve been doing, and nobody does it better, even at the tender age of 34.”

O’Neal has been sidelined since Nov. 12, when he tore knee cartilage against Houston, and he’s expected to be out until at least Dec. 23.

A year ago, when O’Neal sprained his ankle in Miami’s home opener and missed 18 games, there was talk his body was breaking down. He recovered, sat out only five more games and led the Heat to the NBA title for his fourth championship ring.

Now he’s in the middle of another layoff.

“I don’t say anything to people that could never do the stuff that I can do,” he said.

Miami’s sub-.500 record in O’Neal’s absence suggests his value remains high. The Heat went 10-13 without him a year ago, and they’re 4-6 without him this month.

“My brothers are out there struggling right now, and I should be out there with them,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult to watch.”

He’s expected to remain on the bench for a while. The injury originally was diagnosed as a hyperextended knee, and O’Neal said he was surprised when an MRI exam revealed the need for surgery.

“It’s like starting over,” he said.