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Shaq attack: Ball in Greg’s court

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Shaquille O'Neal's open-handed assault of Jazzman Greg Ostertag raised a few eyebrows and a welt or two. But it was not surprising given the Laker center's propensity for adolescent behavior, in both positive and negative respects.

O'Neal initially blamed testosterone for his outburst and said in a prepared-but-thoughtful statement of apology that he "reacted emotionally instead of logically."Of course, the best and most mature of men learn to control those hormonal impulses - wherever they may tend to lead them. You would expect a $120 million man (base basketball contract price, without acting and shoe-deal money) to do the same. But this latest incident is another reminder that money often does not equate to class or maturity.

However, those same juvenile impulses that led to the Shaq attack of Ostertag have their positive fruits. Build, a magazine put out by the humanitarian group "Do Something," reported that O'Neal has been known to visit downtrodden neighborhoods bearing gifts such as television sets. He'll pick out a rundown house where kids live and walk in with a shiny new TV set bobbing along on his mammoth shoulder. If parents or guardians agree to accept his kindness, he plugs the set in and often hangs around to watch a couple of shows with the kids.

So the guy's not all bad. He's just young.

No doubt Ostertag would appreciate a little more respect from the big boy, but that will have to be earned. Maybe O'Neal feels just a little threatened by the Jazz center's solid play against him in last year's playoffs. As an insecure kid who felt a bit upstaged, Shaq responded as many juveniles do - by picking a fight.

He did issue a written apology through a spokesman - without bothering to contact Ostertag personally to bury the hatchet. But he may have been out delivering television sets. Give him the benefit of the doubt.

The National Basketball Association responded to the altercation with a perfunctory single-game suspension and $10,000 fine - not much more than the price of a nice big-screen television.

So the ball is in Ostertag's court. He already took the high road by not striking back physically in Los Angeles. Unlike O'Neal, he should restrict future retaliation to the basketball court. He should demonstrate class while turning in, say, a 22-point, 16-rebound performance his next time out against Shaq.