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Thursday, June 2, 2011
Shaq wasn't a C's fan early on

By Chris Forsberg

AP Photo/Charles KrupaShaquille O'Neal couldn't picture himself in this uniform as a kid.
With Shaquille O'Neal's retirement Wednesday, we've been digging through our notes from the 2010-11 season and, as you'd probably expect, finding all sorts of leftover gems from O'Neal's 10 months in Boston. Here's one particularly fun story that O'Neal relayed to reporters on the third day of training camp in Newport, R.I. back in late September.

O'Neal had been asked if he had any allegiances to the Celtics as a kid, which launched him into story mode:

"Not at all. I was a Magic Johnson man. True story: I had a best friend in Georgia, this white guy named Mitch Rawls [note: forgive us if the spelling is incorrect]. He looked just like Larry Bird. He was Bird and I was Magic. We were best friends, but we'd fight every day. We'd have seven-game series every day and we used to fight. Then when I moved to Germany, his father got transferred with my father, so we just kept it going over there.

"I didn't like the Celtics because my best friend was Bird. He had the same little nose as Bird and the long hair. And I hated him, so I hated [the Celtics] guts. As I became a student of the game, I found out about this great team and all the great players, all the Hall of Famers. Then I met Larry Bird one day, coming out of college, and Larry Bird said I was going to be the best player in the world. I always thought that was a compliment from the great Larry Bird."

Asked about any particularly memorable moments from that childhood rivalry, O'Neal's eyes lit up.

"I remember one time, I pushed him out of bounds and he shot that [expletive] over the backboard, just like Bird did [in a 1986 preseason game against the Houston Rockets]. He shot it right over the [expletive] backboard and it went in. He's running around and so we got into a fight. I beat him up. It was intense. Mitch Rawls. Maybe he'll find this and give me a call."

Shaq's got plenty of free time now. Give him a call, Mitch.