LOS ANGELES – This one was a hoot. Lakers vs. Heat. Star power on (and off) the court, blood feuds, monstrous egos, more subplots than “War and Peace.” If more NBA games were like this one, the league wouldn’t be trailing baseball and football in domestic sports popularity. Well, not baseball, anyway. Kobe vs. Shaq, Jax vs. Riles, The Glove vs. Lamar. It was tons of fun. And that was even before the teams got on the court. Shaquille O’Neal approached Kobe Bryant during pregame stretching and shook his hand. For the first time since Shaq was shipped to Miami in the summer of 2004 and began telling anyone who would listen that Evil Kobe had run him, Phil Jackson and Michael Jackson out of town. Beginning a feud that turned into the NBA’s answer to the Cold War and drove TV ratings for their biannual meetings. Within minutes, the same folks who applauded Shaq’s detente with Kobe booed the big (and getting bigger) guy constantly, The Big Peacemaker having morphed into Goliath. They also let Gary “The Glove” Payton have it, in part because he trash-talked the usually sedate Lamar Odom into spluttering rage in the Christmas game back in Miami. In part because Payton was part of the 2003-04 Lakers Fab Four who failed so miserably against the Pistons in the NBA Finals. The flop that prompted Jerry Buss (not Kobe) to break up the team. Ah, yes, the game. The Lakers looked like a playoffs team, maybe even a conference-finals team for a half, rolling to a 57-42 lead. Odom scored 15 points in the first 24 minutes, one of those spurts when he played as if he might really be Scottie Pippen to Kobe’s Michael Jordan. The out-of-the-blue highlight was Shaq vs. Andrew Bynum, the Lakers’ kid 7-footer. Bynum riled The Big Touchy back in June, when the Lakers drafted him at the age of 17. Bynum said he patterned his game after O’Neal except that he made his free throws, always a sore spot with O’Neal. Shaq responded by calling Bynum a juvenile delinquent, presumably for skipping college. Anyway, foul trouble on Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown prompted Jackson to send his rarely used teenager out against Shaq, and everyone feared for Bynum’s health. Particularly when Shaq skied over Bynum and violently dunked a putback as Childe Andrew was sent sprawling. Then, at the other end, Kobe tossed the ball into Bynum, posted low against Shaq, and you wondered what good could possibly come from that. Then Bynum spun past O’Neal and threw down a monster dunk, such an astounding sight that 18,997 fans leaped out of their seats. Bynum was so “amped up,” by his own admission, that after galloping to the other end of the court, he leaned into Shaq, already ticked off and embarrassed. Who responded by tossing his right elbow into Bynum’s jaw. Double technical. Shaq for throwing the elbow; Bynum for tugging on Superman’s cape. Miami made a second-half run behind Dwyane Wade, who is so good you wonder how a team with him and O’Neal, even on the back side of his career, doesn’t win every night out. The Heat cut it to three before Bryant did his thing, delighting fans by bombing in three long jumpers over Payton, onetime defensive whiz, and the Lakers had won, 100-92. Shaq eventually emerged from the trainer’s room, his home away from home, where he had been chatting with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and told reporters he had made nice with Kobe because NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell had told him to, in a meeting in Seattle. Apparently, not because the Kobester is just plain lovable and Shaq finally had tumbled to that. He said the booing didn’t hurt him (yeah, right). “A sign of respect,” he said in the barely audible Shaq mumble. Bryant said he was glad Shaq laid some skin on him, noting it was right and proper on Martin Luther King Day for two African American sports icons to shake and make up. Bynum was still a little giddy, suggesting that one dunk had shown Shaq he wasn’t a kid to be trifled with. This, from a guy with 153 career NBA minutes vs. the league’s most dominant player for a decade. Riley bemoaned the abuse O’Neal gets on the court (“Nobody is as beat up as he is.”), an observation limited only to Shaq’s current coach, teammates and fans. The rest of the world sees The Big Pushy as a graceless lug. Including, now, Lakers fans. (Thanks for the three championship banners, Shaq, but you play for Miami now.) And everyone went home happy. Even those folks who pay $1,000 for their tickets. It was entertainment with a capital E, outsized personalities, unpredictable events, with astounding athleticism added to the mix. If every NBA game could be like this But the league has too many clubs without stars or tradition or cachet (Atlanta, Charlotte, Portland, Seattle, New Orleans, Orlando, Toronto, et al). And a batch more in a down cycle (New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc.). If NBA commissioner David Stern watched this one, he probably went to sleep with visions of the ratings bonanza a Lakers-Heat finals might bring. Alas, that’s the only way these two will meet again before next season. Making the rest of the 2005-06 schedule seem even duller and grayer than it already is. Paul Oberjuerge’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Readers may reach him at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita Just to make sure we knew it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity on Shaq’s part, he shook Kobe’s hand at the captains meeting, with a seemingly startled Kobe patting Shaq on the back of his shiny head. And since this is L.A., and nobody is in their seats five minutes before the game, they hugged again, before tipoff. Fans cheered. It was like Reagan and Gorbachev shaking hands. The lion lying down with the lamb. Or the elephant, anyway, as tubby as Shaq has gotten. Then there was Phil Jackson vs. Pat Riley, Coaching Legends who aren’t overfond of each other. They once played on opposing teams (Knicks, Lakers), met in a batch of bitter playoff battles in the 1990s (Bulls, Knicks), and they run teams from opposing ends of the style spectrum. Phil is Dr. Zen, who gently pushes a team into the season and seems almost a bystander to how it turns out. Riles is Mr. Control, uptight and slicked down, sweating every possession. His pregame notes on an enormous dry-erase board in the Heat locker room contained more verbiage than some daily newspapers. The fans were into this one. Even the stars. Among them Andy Garcia, Michael Keaton, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg and, of course, Jack Nicholson.