ESPN Network: | | NASCAR | ABCSports | EXPN | FANTASY

A little higher learning

Special to Page 2

It is the last work Monday before Christmas -- or, as it's known in my cubicle, "Aloha Bowl Day." (For Xmas gifts, I often hand the family over-under bets made through my own personal Santa).

Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal was all smiles after picking up his college diploma from LSU on Friday.
And there can be no finer sight by my water cooler than a 300-pound, 7-foot-2 dude in a cap and gown, knocking back Dixie cups full of Sparkletts and soul-shaking any bleary-eyed workers who stumble by.

Shaq Daddy: the valedictorian of humor, post play and much that is good in sports today -- not to mention the perfect pick-me-up when you're stuck under the flourescents the week before Christmas.

"What's up, big man?" Shaq said, mortarboard tassel blocking out one eye.

"Johnny send you here?" I asked.

My boy, Johnny -- you remember him, the shoeshine guy from the old "Police Squad!" episodes -- has been tight with Shaq since Johnny was "assigned" to watch over Shaq in Baton Rouge by a sports agent who shall remain nameless.

"You know it," Shaq said, perusing the NBA agate.

"Damn. Can you believe the Cavs?"

"Shaq," I said, NFL love oozing out of my pores, "I can't name three Cavs."

"Come on, bro," Shaq said. "Andre Miller, Chris Gatling, Clarence Weatherspoon ..."

"Shaq, that's a CBA team."

"Damn," Shaq said, in his familiar calm tone. "That's cold, bro."

I wondered where Johnny was. While I was happy to chill with LSU's tallest graduate, and proud of my boy Shaq for going back and pulling down that degree when he had, oh, about 25 million reasons a year not to, I wanted to talk weekend sports with my boy Johnny. I had a feeling Shaq's sports weekend consisted of a DirecTV-fueled all-day marathon of Cavs-Jazz, Sixers-Bulls, Suns-Spurs and Heat-Warriors.

See, the thing is: I'm not ready for the NBA. No way, no how. It's damn December. They'll be playing six months from now. I don't even know if I'll be employed six months from now.

"I can see it in your eyes, bro," Shaq said. "You want to talk weekend sports with Johnny. You think I'm just a hoophead with a gown. Damn. Ye of little faith."

"Well, Johnny was the one who had the over -- 19 -- on Terrell Owens' receptions," I said. "Pretty gutsy pick, too, considering the 50-year-old NFL record was at 18. I just wanted to give my boy some love."

"That's why Johnny's not here today, bro," Shaq said. "He's celebrating. I sent him to the Caribbean on one of my planes. Hooked him up with some honeys. He'll be back in the New Year, tanned, ready and rested."

"And you think you can carry me to coffee break with some sports rap?" I asked.

"Stand back, bro," Shaq said, producing a crumpled sheet of paper with "Bellagio Resort and Hotel" scrawled across the top. "I drew up my Favorite Things From the Sports Weekend list. You guys in cyberspace like lists, right?"

"Well, attention spans are weak," I said, before Shaq cut me off:

"Actually, I lied, bro," Shaq said, posting it on the wall 7-and-a-half feet off the ground. "It's Johnny's list. He gave it to me to give to you. Thought it could get you through a Monday."

1. Three Rivers Went Out Like a Champ
"That's the way the cookie cutter crumbles," Johnny wrote. "I always liked the multi-purpose crib. Gimme the Vet, Riverfront, Busch, Three Rivers any day. Seams in the turf. Two sport tenants. The sights of my childhood: heat vapors rising off the turf in baseball's August, dudes slipping and sliding and freezing on the same monstrosity in December's NFL.

So here's to Three Rivers, man: To Bradshaw and Blount, to Franco and Rocky, to the Irish Rooneys, to Cowher's jaw and to Stallworth's hands. And way to pound Danny Snyder's boys. Bonus points, lads."

2. Still Tripping on A-Rod
"Never thought Texas was the place," Johnny wrote. "And to think, last week we were clowning on Mike Hampton. But hey, man. If the owner's got it, he can spend it any way he wants. I'm not ripping A-Rod. No way. Just get paid, baby."

3. Fired Up on My Boy Shaq
"Give him some love," Johnny wrote. "He didn't have to go back. But he knew the example it would set. And he knew what his Mom would think. So props to the Lakers for giving him the day off, and for setting Kobe loose on Air Canada on Sunday. Too bad NBC's hoop schedule doesn't begin until next week."

4. College Hoops Takes Shape
"Looks like Illinois is the bomb," Johnny wrote. "And you know Arizona is going to be meaner, tougher and more unbeatable in March because of this kick-ass schedule they're playing. I don't know what Izzo's boys are doing, scoring 46 vs. Kentucky. But I do know they held Big Blue to 45, so that's all that matters. Murph, I am fired up for the next few months of college hoop, one of America's great treasures, and for this week's Stanford-Duke showdown. Sweet."

5. Finally, Loving "The Sound of Music" on NBC
There was no explanation under this one. Say what? Johnny and a musical? The only music Johnny digs are his Led Zeppelin live discs, and his library of Sinatra. Then I noticed the handwriting was different.

"Reminds me of my childhood, when I did some time in Germany when Pops was in the military, bro," Shaq said, grinning. "And Christmas. Can you give me that?"

I nodded. Christmas is for kids, even -- especially -- the overgrown ones.

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to Page 2.

higher learning 

Murphy: Party time

Murphy: Toast of the Rockies

Murphy: Kuerten rising

Murphy: Phat weekend

Murphy: A rose is a rose ...

  Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
Copyright ©2000 ESPN Internet Ventures.
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site.