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Shaq vs. reality

Sports | NBA's man of steel is anything but invincible in new TV show

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," Sept. 26, 2009

Homerun derby with Albert Pujols, 7-on-7 football with Ben Roethlisberger, five rounds in the ring with Oscar de la Hoya, a few laps in the pool with Michael Phelps, the lineup for Shaq O'Neal's new reality television program reads like a dream run at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In each episode of Shaq Vs., the 7-foot-1 NBA superstar looks to best some of the world's top athletes at their own games.

The format is quirky and fun, Shaq's playful personality often stealing the show as he negotiates handicaps to give himself a fighting chance. In his contest with Pujols, for example, basketball's behemoth looked to sail homeruns over a Little League fence of just 250 feet to center field, while the Cardinals slugger took aim at a Big League fence measuring 382 feet straightaway.

Despite such advantages, Shaq struggles to compete in the various exhibitions, appearing uncoordinated, if not foolish, at times. Such lack of acumen off the basketball court raises questions as to why producers would choose Shaq for the reality show and why anyone would tune in to watch.

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But in the spaces between competition, when the four-time NBA champion is left to trash talk and self-deprecate, Shaq's gift of gab aptly answers such questions. Shaq Vs. is not about sports. It's about Shaq, perhaps even playing prelude to a future gig on the late-night talk-show circuit. The big man's show has competed well with other reality TV programming in the same Tuesday prime-time slot. Imagine what the larger-than-life personality could do without the awkward athletic exploits. No doubt, network executives already are.

Pennant powers

Few baseball fans can have missed the remarkable surge of the New York Yankees this season. After missing the playoffs a year ago for the first time since 1994, the Bronx Bombers are back on top in 2009 as the most dominant team in baseball. Since the all-star break, they are winning at a .750 clip and scoring almost six runs per game.

But a second team, one more often overlooked, is posting numbers to rival the Yankees, perhaps fore­shadowing a powerhouse showdown in the American League Championship Series. The Los Angeles Angels have resurrected a season once plagued with injury and marked with tragedy. The early absence of ailing superstars and the sudden death of pitcher Nick Adenhart in a felony hit-and-run car accident left the team treading water over the first third of the season.

On June 11, the Angels' record stood at 29-29, a mark good enough only for third place in the American League West. Since that date, the team has erupted with 6.5 runs per game, rocketing to first place in the division and one of the best records in baseball.

Push up or shut up

Anonymous accusations from current and former Michigan football players that the coaching staff pressures the team into too many hours of workouts have met only scorn from Big Ten rival Ohio State. Rather than jump on the story to cry foul, Buckeyes players and coach Jim Tressel came to the defense of the Michigan coaching staff, arguing that extra work beyond the NCAA 20-hour cap is necessary to compete at a high level.

Tressel was careful to say that his staff does not make extra workouts mandatory, but neither does he prohibit his players from voluntarily putting in the time: "It'd be like telling our med students, 'We're going to close the library.' You've got to let them train."

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez insists that his staff follows all NCAA rules, but, like Tressel, says he will not prevent players from putting in extra hours voluntarily.

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