MIAMI -- The so-called "Hate Shaq" tour took a sharp turn in the opposite direction Wednesday, becoming the "Shaq Hates" tour.
Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal ripped his former coach, Stan Van Gundy, on Wednesday after Van Gundy complained about O'Neal flopping the previous night in a loss at Orlando, pulling no punches in one of the stronger diatribes of his 17½ year career.
"I heard his comment. Flopping to me is doing it more than one time, and I realized when I tried to take the charge, as I went down, I realized that that play reminded me of his whole coaching career," O'Neal said of Van Gundy. "And one thing I really despise is a front-runner, so I know for a fact that he's a master of panic, and when it gets time for his team to go in 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."
Van Gundy coached the Heat during his first season in Miami before Pat Riley replaced him 22 games into the 2005-06 championship season. In the Van Gundy camp, O'Neal was blamed for helping engineer the change behind the scenes.
Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel Wednesday night that it appears O'Neal was able to dish out criticism but unable to take it.
"He's dealt with this like he's dealt with everything else," Van Gundy told the Sentinel. "I think it's funny."
Miami had the East's best record in 2004-05 but lost to the Detroit Pistons in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, and Van Gundy was replaced after the Heat went 11-10 to start the '05-06 season.
"Like I said, one thing I really hate is a front-runner, and I despise front-runners," said O'Neal, who used the word "despise" at least a half dozen times, then repeated his comments for Miami and Phoenix print reporters who were late arriving to his pregame rant.
When finished, he stopped an ESPN.com reporter and said he wanted to make sure one additional quote was printed: "Now I see why everybody who plays for him doesn't like him."
Van Gundy told the Sentinel he was unaware of any problems with O'Neal when they were together in Miami.
"Whatever. I don't know ... that's his estimation of my coaching. I'm not going to worry about it too much," Van Gundy told the Sentinel. "Actually, that [Shaq's criticism] puts me in good company, very good company.
"He's taken shots at Phil Jackson and Pat Riley, so maybe I should consider it an honor."
The episode that inspired this latest Shaq rant came after O'Neal took an elbow to the chest from Dwight Howard during a third-quarter Magic possession during Orlando's 111-99 victory and crumbled to the floor looking to draw an offensive foul.
"I was shocked, seriously shocked," Van Gundy said, "and very disappointed because he knows what it's like. Let's stand up and play like men, and I think our guy did that tonight."
O'Neal acknowledged he had flopped, but said it was the first time he had done it in his career. Over the years, O'Neal has been particularly critical of players (most notable Vlade Divac) who had flopped while trying to defend him.
"Flopping is playing like that your whole career. I was trying to take the charge, trying to get a call. It probably was a flop, but flopping is the wrong use of words. Flopping would describe his coaching," O'Neal said, steering the conversation back to Van Gundy. "I'm not going to just sit abound and let nobodies take shots at me, and he is a nobody to me. And if he thinks he can get in a little press conference and take shots at me like I'm not going to [give] something back, he's got another thing coming."
"I said I flopped, but flopping is falling and crying and complaining to the ref. I tried to take a charge. The rules say when a guy comes into your chest and you fall, that's an offensive foul, and that's all I tried to do. I fell, didn't complain, he made a great move, spun and dunked it, but flopping is the wrong choice of words. So that's all I've got to say about that, but again, I despise frontrunners, I despise them. And that's what he is to me."
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.