Over one tumultuous, pack-up-and-leave summer, Shaquille O'Neal stunningly switched teams, coasts and, gradually, pants size. The NBA's most indomitable force of the past decade -- all 7 feet 1, 325 pounds of him -- sat down for an extended interview last week and spoke of those changes with The Post's Mike Wise and Michael Wilbon.
From Kobe Bryant to Dwyane Wade, from Phil Jackson to Pat Riley, O'Neal talked bluntly about his Los Angeles Lakers' past, his future with the Miami Heat, his girth and the enduring basketball legacy he hopes to leave.
Your weight became a daily drama in Los Angeles. Why did you wait until now to drop 30-40 pounds?
"I know people don't believe this, but weight has never been a problem. What you've got to understand is, when I got to L.A., they started tackling me and fighting me. So I got with [renowned Thai-Bo trainer] Billy Blanks and we lifted weights, because I wanted to get big and strong. I've always had 14- to 15-percent body fat, even when I had toe surgery and I came back at 365.
"So that's all I did was lift and get big. Instead of somebody being a man and coming to me and saying, 'We want you to lose weight,' no one ever did that. Phil [Jackson] told me to get big, get strong."
Did you feel you were too heavy?
"Look, 355-365 is probably a number too big and too heavy to play basketball, I admit that. So when I met with Pat [Riley], I asked him a question: 'What do you want me to weigh when I come in?'
" 'How much do you weigh now?' he said.
"I said, '358, 357.' He said, 'I want you to be a young Shaq at 325.' And I told him, 'Okay.'
"I've always been the type of player when the coach tells me do something, I do it. I may argue and fight and tussle with you, but I do it. I got it done."
Even for someone over 300 pounds, isn't 40 pounds a lot to drop in one summer?
"Muscle weighs more than fat, so it wasn't tough at all. I didn't touch a weight. I did the treadmill for an hour and a half, twice a day. I woke up at 8, worked out from 9:30 to 12, came back and did the daddy and the husband thing. I put the kids to bed about 10 o'clock and went back out about 11 and did the same thing. Two-a-days, every day."
What really went wrong with the Lakers?
"The Lakers were like, 'You get Gary [Payton] and Karl [Malone], we'll give you everything you want.' I got Gary and Karl to take less money. When [the contract extension] didn't happen for a couple of months, I knew it wasn't coming. I'm not new to this game. I'd been through it before in Orlando. After the season, I go downstairs to get some cereal with the kids. It's like 8 a.m. and the chef wasn't up yet. I'm watching TV and see this report that Phil is out.