DENVER, Feb. 19 -- Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal said Saturday that he uses trash-talk to gain a psychological edge over the league's other big men. But there is one player O'Neal doesn't badger: the Houston Rockets' Yao Ming, who is from China.
"I found out that he was a respectful young man," O'Neal said before he and the other members of the Eastern Conference all-star team began practice. "I realized that Asian people are different than us Americans. . . . The Asian people have always been about honor and respect, so I respect and honor him."
Miami center Shaquille O'Neal no longer badgers fellow all-star and Houston center Yao Ming: "The Asian people have always been about honor and respect, so I respect and honor him," O'Neal said.
(Lucy Nicholson -- Reuters)
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O'Neal and Yao go head-to-head in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game. Two years ago, when O'Neal was still with the Lakers, he ignited a firestorm of protest for making what many Asian groups considered racist comments during an interview.
"Tell Yao Ming, 'Ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh,' " O'Neal told an interviewer in the summer of 2002.
O'Neal apologized and called himself an "idiot prankster." Nonetheless, he continued to slam Yao's game in the media. Last season, O'Neal often said that he was the only dominating center in the Western Conference, an apparent slight of the 7-foot-6 Yao.
What changed O'Neal's attitude?
In an interview last November with The Washington Post, O'Neal said: "One day my father came to Houston before a game we were supposed to play against the Rockets and he said, 'Cut that stuff out.' I said, 'What?' My father said, 'You talkin' all that mess to that man. Do you know that man sent you a Christmas card?'
"He handed me the Christmas card. It said, 'Shaq, you're my favorite big man. I want to be like you in a couple of years. I love you.' And after that, I'm like . . . I'm acting like an [expletive] to this dude, trying to break him, trying to punk him before I play him, but it didn't work. You got to respect a man you can't break."
Quentin Richardson of the Phoenix Suns won Saturday's three-point shootout, but questions have been raised recently over how the NBA chooses contestants.
Players such as the Heat's Damon Jones and Minnesota's Fred Hoiberg wondered why they were excluded when their numbers compare favorably with some of those who were selected. The group chosen this year was defending champion Voshon Lenard, Seattle's Ray Allen and Vladimir Radmanovic, Philadelphia's Kyle Korver, and Phoenix's Joe Johnson and Richardson.
Jones wanted to know the league's criteria.
Stu Jackson, the NBA's senior vice president of basketball operations, described a system that allowed the league great latitude in choosing, one that could theoretically allow almost anyone to compete.
"It takes into account players with the highest number of made threes with a certain level of minimum percentage, and it also can take into account the highest-percentage shooters with a minimum number of makes," Jackson said.
Jackson said former champions are also picked if they express a desire to compete.