Smoked windows, Shaq attacks and other basket cases

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The Independent Online

It's Father's Day today, across America. So what do you give the 7ft, 300lb man in your life who has everything? Why not indulge him with the vehicle of his dreams, the £40,000 Ford Shaq SST Expedition?

The Expedition, the heavier, slightly more stable big brother of the accident-prone Explorer, is named after Shaquille O'Neal, the larger-than-life centre of the Los Angeles Lakers, who were yesterday celebrating their victory in the NBA finals against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The SST Expedition will be fitted out with the understated style and accoutrements for which its namesake is famous. "I want to make sure the Shaq SST looks classy and different," O'Neal said.

To that end, his stylised Superman logo will appear on seat backs, the console and tailgate. Other amendments include smoke-tinted windows (for privacy, something of a contradiction here, since the only reason you would buy one of these things is to draw attention to yourself), television, DVD and a 10-disc CD feeding into a massive 580-watt sound system. The SST comes in two colours, black or silver. There will be 500 of them, sequentially numbered. Shaq's will be number 34, his jersey number for the Lakers.

Whether he actually gets to drive it will be a moot point. O'Neal guesses he has "about 15" other rides: ranging in size from a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a Ferrari convertible, through customised Mercedes sedans to a Hummer, the strangely popular Gulf War all-terrain vehicle that looks like a decapitated tank.

Let them eat cake

When two guys, each standing seven feet tall, attempt to occupy the same small piece of space, some conflict is bound to result. So it has been in the NBA finals between O'Neal and Dikembe Mutombo, the opposing centre for the combative Philadelphia76ers.

In addition to possession of the sharpest elbows in the NBA, Mutombo, originally from the Congo, has a degree in Linguistics and Diplomacy and is fluent in nine languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and five African dialects.

O'Neal has been unhappy with Mutombo's tactics in trying to occupy the space under the basket he feels has been previously spoken for. Mutombo replied, in the language that, it should be remembered, is not his first. Think of it as adventures in linguistics.

"I hope he [O'Neal] is not trying to play a psychological game against Mutombo. Nobody plays games against Mutombo. It doesn't work."

And another thing: "A lot of it has to do with the way he played the first three series [against Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio]. It was like a walk in the cake."

Thanks, pop

SirValiant Brown. Where else would a player with a handle like that play but in the very heart of American democracy, Washington DC? Brown, of George Washington University, has declared his candidacy for this month's NBA draft of university and high school players. He'll probably be picked up. The more pressing question is, will it be his first or last name on the back of his team uniform.

Brown's father, Robbie, was a fan of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Such a fan that he named two of his sons for two of the knights, SirValiant and SirLancelot. The former offered this brief plot and name synopsis: "King Arthur, his go-to man was SirValiant."

Spirit is willing

Some lessons to live by from the fledgling Women's United Soccer Association, now into its tenth week of competition. Among the Wusa teams are the New York Power, the Washington Freedom, the Carolina Courage and the San Diego Spirit.

The results may suggest contradictory possibilities but, as the prophet said, obliquely, they are what you make of them.

Thus: Power defeats Courage (4-2), but Freedom defeats Power (2-1 in injury time). Courage defeats Spirit (4-3), as does Power (1-0), while Freedom tied with Courage (2-2). Resolve had a bye.

Off his Rocker

It looked like the normal baseball byplay between hitter and pitcher ­ pitcher throws, waywardly, hitter takes a 90mph curveball on the knee, hitter on the way to first base asks pitcher whether or not that was accidental, players from both sides rush to join the conversation ­ after a delivery from Tom Glavine, of the Atlanta Braves, struck the Toronto Blue Jays' Raul Mondesi.

"It would have been real harmless," said the Braves' third baseman Chipper Jones, "if someone, who will remain nameless, from the bullpen, had minded his own business. All was fine and dandy until about 30 seconds later."

That was when the Braves' John Rocker, relief pitcher and notorious national denouncer of most things non-native to his hometown of Macon, Georgia, charged out and began yelling insults at Mondesi. Both players had to be restrained by team-mates.

The Blue Jays manager, Buck Martinez, felt that Jones was more involved than he should have been, before adding a reference to Rocker: "... and there's that other knucklehead."

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