10 Questions for Shaquille O'Neal

The Miami Heat center talks about running for sheriff

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Basketball star Shaquille O'Neal

The Big Aristotle, Shaq Diesel, Superman--by any name, Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal is still a force. The Heat begin their defense of the NBA title this week, and Shaq will be chasing his fifth championship (he had three with the Los Angeles Lakers in addition to the one last year with Miami). O'Neal, 34, called TIME's Sean Gregory to talk about the NBA's controversial new ball, his police ambitions and the coach he wants to see in a foxhole.

How would you grade the state of the game in the NBA?
When I came in, 14 years ago, it was an A-. After Jordan left [in 1993], it kind of went down to a C--, and then it was a C for a while. The [1998] lockout took it down to a D. And after that, it started coming back up. Now it's at a B+. It's not like it was when Magic and Bird were at their prime, but it's close.

The NBA is using a new ball this year, and you've been a pretty vocal critic.
The ball is terrible. It's something we'll just have to get used to. Playing with the new ball is like going to a gentlemen's club, seeing an exotic dancer and then going home and playing with a plastic blow-up doll. It's bad. A lot of these people are trying to make decisions for the NBA. It's just getting too corporate. There are too many rules that don't really make sense--for example, about our shorts being too long. You go to a Foot Locker--that's what all the kids are buying, the long shorts. Kids ain't buying the short John Stockton shorts.

If you were NBA commissioner, what would you do differently?
I would speed the game up a little bit and make it really a game. Make a guy have to beat a guy--not flop and get calls and be nice to the referees and kiss ass. You're not better than me, you shouldn't be able to beat me.

It was reported last week that you were present, as a reserve Bedford County, Va., sheriff's deputy, at a police raid of an alleged child pornographer's home. But the police went to the wrong house, and the man has filed a complaint, saying he was "scared beyond description." What happened?
Because I was there, everybody wants to make a big story about it. It ain't no story. We did everything right, went to the judge, got a warrant. You know, they make it seem like we beat him up, and that never happened. We went in, talked to him, took some stuff, returned it--bada bam, bada bing.

You're also a reserve police officer for the city of Miami Beach. How serious are you about a postplaying career in law enforcement?
I want to be sheriff. I know I can run for sheriff and win because I'm Shaq. But if I win just because I'm Shaq, then my troops won't respect me. But if my troops know I went to the police academy and I go out on warrants and do paperwork, then they'll understand that I'm serious, that I'm really the man.

Your scoring and rebounding were at career lows last season. What do you say to people who doubt you're still a threat?
The day I stopped worrying about my stats was the day I started winning. Everyone is still going to double- and triple-team me, and when they do that, I just make my guys better. One of my rookies asked me [after a preseason game against Houston], "Damn, Yao Ming is 7 ft. 6 in., and they double you?" I said, "Yeah, that's cause I'm bad."

How long will you keep playing?
I have three years left [after the 2006-07 season] on my deal, and I will fulfill that, unless they kick me out. After that, you're done? Probably, most likely.

Say there are seven seconds left in Game 7 of the NBA finals. Your team has the ball, and you're down by 1 point. You call time-out. Whom do you want to see in the huddle--your current coach Pat Riley or your Laker coach Phil Jackson?
Pat, because Pat gave me a chance when somebody else turned their back on me.

Who's your favorite athlete outside of basketball?
I'm going to have to go with Tiger Woods because he's so dominant right now. His father passed away, and he's very sad and upset, and he's playing angry. He's killing everyone. Destroying them. It's all over. He's sort of like me. When I get mad, there's nothing anyone can do. Nothing at all.

Are you willing to predict a Heat repeat?
I can't really predict it right now because I don't want to cause no bad luck for us. But we have to repeat. Anything less would be uncivilized.