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Shaq fined, suspended for slapping Ostertag

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 4 1997 12:00 a.m. MST

Greg Ostertag said it's news to him that Shaquille O'Neal has apologized.

"My phone ain't rang," said Ostertag. "The only thing he's done is through the media. He hasn't contacted me."In a written statement as syrupy as the Pepsi he promotes, O'Neal said he is sorry for slapping the Utah Jazz center to the ground between practice sessions at the Great Western Forum on Friday.

"I made a mistake," wrote the Lakers center, who initially blamed testosterone for his outburst. "Instead of focusing upon what is best for the team, I got caught up in the drama of the season's first game and reacted emotionally instead of logically.

"I hope (Greg) accepts my apology and that he and I can put behind us any bad feelings," read the statement.

Despite the apology, O'Neal was suspended without pay for one game and fined $10,000 by the NBA. He will miss Tuesday night's game at Sacramento - a salary hit of $156,794.

Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller called the punishment minimal.

"It really should have been multiple games," he said. "It doesn't send a strong enough message."

Miller acknowledged Utah's case would have been stronger had the incident been recorded on videotape. O'Neal approached Ostertag on the basketball floor after the Lakers had finished practicing and the Jazz had just arrived for their traditional game-day shootaround. The players reportedly exchanged words concerning comments made by each other after Utah eliminated Los Angeles from the Western Conference semifinals last season. O'Neal abruptly ended the conversation by slapping Ostertag on the head with an open left hand. The blow knocked the Jazz center, who did not retaliate, to the floor and dislodged a contact lens.

Ostertag went on to score just two points in Utah's 104-87 season-opening loss to the Lakers that night. O'Neal did not play because of a strained abdominal muscle. His status for Tuesday's game at Sacramento had been in question as well, but L.A. officials convinced the league he is healthy enough to play. Interestingly, Shaq will make his 1997-98 debut Friday when the Lakers and New York Knicks meet at the Forum in a nationally televised game.

"We would have liked to see the suspension come after he came back," said Jazz general manager Tim Howells. "It leaves it open to speculation if (Sacramento) would have really been his first game back."

The suspension and fine came as no suprise to Howells, who said the matter is resolved.

"I think what was levied is similar to what it would have been if it were a game situation," said Howells, while praising Ostertag for handling it with maturity. "I guess with time to think about it (Shaq) finally said the right things."

Ostertag, however, opted not to discuss the matter.

"I've got nothing to say," he said before waving off reporters prior to Utah's loss to Washington Monday in the Delta Center.

"If you want a comment," he said after the game, "it's a league thing and there is nothing I can do about it."

Further inquiries by the media were answered repeatedly with "no comment."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan also declined to discuss the situation.

"I'm through commenting on that," he said. "I don't think that has anything to do with basketball."

O'Neal's apology also extended to Lakers owner Jerry Buss, executive vice president Jerry West and fans. Shaq even discussed his duty as a role model.

"I acknowledge my responsibility to set a good example for young people and I admit that in this instance, I did not do so. I ask those young people not to emulate my conduct here because there is no excuse to engage in physical confrontation," wrote O'Neal. "I always tell kids to follow their dreams but I should add that it is important to learn from your mistakes and prepare yourself so that they will not happen again."

The written apology, which was released to the Los Angeles media and never formally delivered to Ostertag or the Utah Jazz, came one day after O'Neal told the Los Angeles Times he was at peace with himself.

"Maybe it was wrong and maybe it wasn't wrong," he said. "I want it to be over with. And it will be over with."

Case closed.

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