Allen Iverson took Most Valuable Player honors as the East beat the West 125-115 at the NBA All-Star game (search) Sunday night. But if there was a Most Vibrant Personality award, Shaquille O'Neal would have won that.
Iverson had 15 points, nine assists and five steals. O'Neal finished with 12 points, six rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals.
For the second straight year, O'Neal made people laugh, applaud and appreciate his oversized way of doing everything, infusing an otherwise nondescript game with just the right amount of precociousness.
Primping, preening, playful and preposterous, The Big Entertainer gave a supersized dose of personality — though he wouldn't go so far as to do it while wearing a shoe phone. The 360-pound, 7-foot behemoth was making his 12th appearance in the league's showcase event.
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He danced as he was introduced, struck a pose before missing a foul shot and goofed with the rap stars and hip-hop artists who lined the front-row seats across from the Eastern Conference (search) bench.
O'Neal's display of showmanship came after he unveiled his size-22 red and white shoe phone in the locker room before the game. An actual working telephone mechanism is built into the sneaker, and an antenna pops out near the toes.
"It's big, you can take it anywhere, make people look at you," O'Neal said. "And it prevents muggers. Kick them right in the [behind] with that Shaq shoe phone.
"There's an addition at the top where you can pull out the strings and make it a Shaq-shoe handbag and phone all-in-one."
The silliness O'Neal displayed and the reception he received were in stark contrast to the way things went for his former teammate, Kobe Bryant.
Bryant finished with better numbers and was the most intense player on the court during the fourth quarter, but this show was clearly not his.
Bryant, who was accused of rape in Colorado two summers ago before the charges were dropped last September, was the only player booed during pre-game introductions. O'Neal, Iverson and Vince Carter received the loudest ovations, and O'Neal played to the crowd by strutting down the runway wearing a huge smile.
"Leave it to Shaq to do something like that," teammate Dwyane Wade said. "He's always doing something to keep fans involved."
O'Neal and Bryant ignored each other but exchanged hugs and hand slaps with the other starters as they stood at the center circle for the opening tip. They first came into contact with each other midway through the quarter when O'Neal poked the ball away from Bryant as he drove, only to be called for a foul.
O'Neal nearly howled in disgust, yet another of the many contortions his face and body made throughout the night.
"I'm not going to make this weekend about me and Shaquille. That's not fair," Bryant said. "Even when we played together we weren't the best of buddies. People need to leave that in the past."
When O'Neal went to the free throw line in the first quarter after driving around Yao Ming and dunking, he held the ball in his right hand, placed his left hand on his hip — striking a pose, as the fashionistas say — as he shot the ball one-handed.
Naturally, given O'Neal's history as a poor foul shooter, he missed.
"You don't need to watch him a lot to see his personality come through. He's got a great deal of charisma, he obviously just loves life, and he makes it fun for everybody around him," East coach Stan Van Gundy said of O'Neal.
LeBron James and Iverson teamed up on the prettiest play of the first quarter, an alley-oop dunk by the 20-year-old Cleveland guard who became the second-youngest All-Star starter in NBA history.
The crowd laughed at Bryant when his off-the-backboard pass to Kevin Garnett on a 2-on-1 break failed to find its target, though they oohed in appreciation when Bryant, who is right-handed, banked in a 14-footer shooting it lefty.
Bryant again wowed the crowd late in the second quarter by reaching behind his head to catch an alley-oop pass from Steve Nash and slamming it through. Bryant had 16 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals.
But by far the best dunk of the quarter came when Carter drove the middle and tossed it hard off the backboard before catching the ball and jamming it with two hands.
O'Neal went to the line once more, midway through the third quarter, and displayed his usual form — or lack thereof — in missing two more free throws as the ball came off his hand with sidespin on the first one and topspin on the second.
James got free for a breakaway moments later one-handed slam that pleasing to the eye but nothing extraordinary by All-Star game standards, and the third quarter ended with the East leading 95-89 behind 13 points apiece from Iverson and James.
Wade had a breakaway reverse dunk early in the final period to put the East ahead 102-93. After Bryant hit a pair of 3-pointers to close the West to 110-105, Shaq bounded off the bench to return.
The West never pulled close, and the game ended with O'Neal getting to attempt a 3-pointer.
It missed, but it didn't matter. The showman had gotten the last moment in the spotlight.
"That's what this game is about, it's for the fans," Ben Wallace said. "Just relax and enjoy yourself, give the fans something to cheer about, and that's what he did."