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Wednesday, April 3
Shaq won't allow injured toe to stop him

By Dr. Jack Ramsay
Special to ESPN.com

Not since Lou "The Toe" Groza was kicking field goals for the old Cleveland Browns has an athlete's toe gotten as much attention as the one that belongs to the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal.

Shaquille O'Neal
Despite an injured toe, Shaquille O'Neal is still the NBA's second-leading scorer.
The injury to O'Neal's right big toe -- described as sore and arthritic -- has forced him to sit out 10 games so far this season. And coach Phil Jackson admitted recently that he's ready to give him more time off before the playoffs begin in order to get the game's most dominating big man ready for the team's title defense.

Shaq has played in 61 of his team's 74 games, but there have been times when his toe has bothered him so much that he told Kobe Bryant to step up his performance; Shaq didn't feel he would be up to his usual 26-point, 10-plus-rebound contribution.

Shaq says the toe bothers him with every step and jump he takes during a game. He admits the injury makes him "one or two steps slower" and that his defense, rebounding and shot-blocking have slackened because of it. But he just plays through the discomfort and never uses it as an excuse.

Shaq has tried all kinds of therapy and finds that a combination of acupuncture, massage and medication get the best results. The medication upsets his stomach, so he monitors his intake and gets kidney and liver checkups to make sure he is not damaging those organs.

"They're OK ... not great. I just have to suck it up," he said. So he continues with the medication.

Because of the toe, Jackson limits Shaq's running in practice. Instead, he rides a stationary bicycle and runs on the soft surface of a treadmill to help stay in game shape. While that regimen benefits his stamina ("I never get tired," he said), it's a poor substitute for live practice, and his timing and shooting touch are sometimes affected.

I'll have a new adrenaline, new enthusiasm and emotion in the playoffs. It only takes 15 wins; the first team to win 15 games is the champion.
Shaquille O'Neal

O'Neal is counting on the increased emotional atmosphere of the playoffs to help lift his game and carry him past the pain in his toe.

"I'll have a new adrenaline, new enthusiasm and emotion in the playoffs," he said. "It only takes 15 wins; the first team to win 15 games is the champion."

Shaq has won two championship rings and is hungry for more. He also wants Jackson to win his ninth championship this season, a feat that would tie him with the legendary Red Auerbach for the most NBA titles won by a coach.

Regarding the future, Shaq says he will rest his toe for a period of time this summer. If that doesn't resolve the problem, he'll have surgery, then get ready for another season. He doesn't talk about retirement and says he intends to finish out his Lakers' contract, which runs through the 2005-06 season.

By then he hopes to prove his number (34) belongs among the others that hang high above the court in the Staples Center.

And that means four more years of trouble for the rest of the NBA.

Hall of Fame coach Dr. Jack Ramsay is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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