P HOENIX - It took all of three Google searches and two clicks of the mouse. I'd been there, watched it, wrote about it, wrote about writing about it, but after some of things I'd been hearing out of Shaquille O'Neal's mouth the past few months, I had to check myself.
Review, refresh, reload.
And it took all of three Google searches and two clicks of the mouse to find the evidence. To be doubly sure, I did a few old-fashioned Newslibrary searches to find articles that appeared in the printed newspaper, which can not be altered -or "updated" as they call it these days - and the quotes were even stronger than I'd remembered.
In 2004, shortly before O'Neal faced Kobe Bryant and the Lakers for the first time since his trade to the Miami Heat the previous summer, O'Neal said:
"A lot of people think you have to have a relationship to play together and win championships. That's not true at all and it was evident," he said. "But you have to have respect. Were we ever close? Not really. Did I respect his game? Of course I did."
The past few months however, O'Neal has been saying that his much-publicized feud with Bryant during their Laker years was all "marketing" and finding new and lavish ways to praise Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
In today's All Star Game in Phoenix, when the dramatic triad is reunited on the court and on the same team for the first time since June of 2004, there will be quite a bit more marketing going on as O'Neal and Bryant ham it up for the cameras and Jackson does his best amused guffaw.
Will it be enough to write-over their history, or at least revise it in the version O'Neal now prefers?
"I don't know," Jackson said. "The last person standing writes the history, right?"
The revised truth, according to O'Neal, is that things between the two megastars were chummy behind the practice doors and only got "dramatical" once the media was let in for the last 10 minutes and the cameras were turned on.
At Friday's media session here in Phoenix O'Neal suggested that "marketing" had an even grander scope.
"All the stuff that was going on I think was planned by the powers that be, me even included," he said, making this whole thing start to sound like the plot to "Wag the Dog."
And just who were those "powers that be?"
"Hollywood, myself, Phil, everybody," O'Neal said. "Not Kobe. Kobe was just being Kobe. ... We were just going with it, having a good time, and it was fun.
"I know times that I was just saying stuff just to be saying it. But I can tell you for a fact, and you can even ask Kobe this, in our years together, we never had one problem in practice. It was always, he'd say something or I thought he said something, and I'd come back."
Bryant didn't admit to such fond remembrances of their "dramatical" years.
"I'm not revisiting that," he said, after deflecting about five previous questions about O'Neal. "It wasn't a fun time for me, so I'm not about to revisit it."
At one point, Bryant did let his guard down a little, remembering Shaq as a "goofball" who turned into a "beast ... when that light came on."
"When that light came on, you didn't see the funny guy," Bryant said. "You saw somebody that was gonna break somebody's face off to win the game."
And just like that, as it always was, we're back to the game of he said-he said.
So what's really going on here, besides adding a couple extra chapters to what has been one of the more intriguing relationships in recent NBA history?
O'Neal, 36, having played his way back to relevance this season by making his 15th All Star team, but also a lot closer to the end of his career than even the middle of it, has been reflecting on his time in the NBA and how he'd like it to be remembered.
Much like a president in his final few months in office, O'Neal has begun legacy-shaping.
"I think he thinks sentimentally about the game and I think you do after you've been in this game, what's this his 13th, 14th, 15h All Star?" Jackson said.
"When you've been to 15 All-Star games you start thinking back on how much this has changed and it's easy to be nostalgic. He should be allowed that."
Jackson's entirely right. All of us, when we come within viewing distance of the end of a part of our lives that's been important to us for a long time, should be allowed a bit of nostalgia.
We should even be allowed to remember the good parts and color over the bad parts with a rosy crayon.
Deep down, O'Neal seems to recognize that's what he's been doing.
"I've been in a lot of talks or whatever," he said. "But you know it's human. People see me as one of those guys they can touch, I'm not one of those superstars with all their bodyguards."
All these years, that is what has endeared O'Neal to us and his fans. That and his list of nicknames, of course. As big as he was, both in stature and in presence, there was always a part of him that felt raw and real.
The big smile, the hearty laugh, the wild coast-to-coast drives down the court and joyful high-stepping celebrations, and of course the wink at the end of it all which let you know it was fun and boyhood games for him too.
It still is, even though O'Neal hasn't winked at us just yet.
"We had to have a one-minded idea to win championships," Jackson said. "Everybody's able to put aside individual hopes or aspirations in the greater good of the whole. These guys were able to do that, and bond in so doing.
"Those sentiments are not false. There are different feelings that come in sometimes, but the bond they created at one time is still renewable. That's what he's talking about. The sharing of the ball, defensive ideas, space and time. Those things are fine. I'm good with that."