Eventually, we'll know what happened with Shaq, Wade
As much as neither wanted to admit to even the slightest bit of dislike for each other, there's something between Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade that has somehow remained trapped in the confines of the locker room they used to share.
The encounters are becoming a little less friendly each time, and they are heading to the verge of just plain chilly.
That was Udonis Haslem, not Wade, whom O'Neal spent the pregame chatting up for several minutes, with Dorell Wright coming in late for a few words of his own. And the pretip handshake was typical, a hand slap, a halfway man hug and a tap from Wade on Shaq's bald head. Not much different from what Wade would have done to Rasheed Wallace before a game.
During the game, Wade broke the cardinal rule of playing against O'Neal, which goes something like this: Thou shalt not attempt to dunk on Shaq, at least if you want to retain consciousness and four healthy limbs. Wade knows that. He said as much before the two played against each other for the first time this year in Phoenix.
Yet there Wade was in the fourth quarter, elevating a few feet from the rim, with O'Neal standing in his way. Wade got the expected treatment, taking a shot near the face and falling to the floor as a result.
It was the foul before that when O'Neal knocked Wade to the floor and stood over his former teammate's body for a few extra moments staring down at him.
Playful? Maybe. A message? Probably that, too.
And it's not just a one-sided distaste.
Wade has continuously stated that the relationship between the two has died down some since O'Neal was traded to Phoenix last year.
And he said twice before Wednesday's game that his grandmother taught him to forgive but not forget.
What exactly did he need to forgive O'Neal for?
Was it strictly for bailing on the sinking ship that was the 15-victory Heat last season, or is there more to it?
Are those rumors of O'Neal mockingly calling Wade ''Wonder Boy'' toward the end of their tenure together true, and is that sticking with Wade? Maybe it's how O'Neal gushes over Bryant these days and never brings up the other two-guard with which he won a title.
Even Wednesday, O'Neal went as far as to mention Alonzo Mourning, Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, James Posey and Haslem as parts of his most vivid memories of the 2005-06 championship season.
Wade? He only spoke of him when asked specifically about him.
There must be something there. And if it isn't coming out yet, it eventually has to.
O'Neal's not one to keep those feelings hidden for long.
All it took was one comment from Stan Van Gundy, his former coach, about O'Neal's flop against Dwight Howard on Tuesday for Shaq to unleash fury on Van Gundy.
''One thing I really despise is a front-runner,'' O'Neal said of the Magic's coach. "I know for a fact he's a master of panic, and when it gets time for his team to go into the postseason and do certain things, he will let them down because of his panic. I've been there before. I've played for him.
"Yeah, it probably was a flop, but flopping is wrong. Flopping would describe his coaching.
"I'm not going to let anybody take shots at me. He's a nobody to me.''
That's pretty harsh, even coming from Shaq.
It's also more of his revisionist history at work. Van Gundy is hardly a front-runner.
He has been successful with every NBA team he coached, including the Heat team that reached the conference semifinals the season before O'Neal got to Miami.
It's a comment like that, one which O'Neal clearly has been holding back since Van Gundy stepped down as the Heat's coach in 2006, that makes you reconsider exactly why Van Gundy left.
NOT SURE NOW
All the speculation then was Riley-related, but now you can't be so sure.
Who knows what it will take for him to unload on Wade, but there has to be something that remains unspoken.
At least the Heat crowd Wednesday had its cathartic experience. Yeah, there was the pleasant greeting when the big fella was officially introduced. But the boos started pouring down when O'Neal hit the foul line for the first time.
And by the time he knocked down Wade on that final foul, the chants of ''Shaq, you [stink],'' -- the calls usually reserved for the officials -- filled the arena.
At least the fans aren't holding back their disgust for the player who couldn't withstand one losing season and bolted toward a then-contender.
Talk about a front-runner.
Maybe nothing will ever be unearthed. Maybe there isn't even anything between the two former championship teammates.
But Shaq's history shows otherwise. And their actions lately tend to support that.