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Fran Blinebury

Shaquille O'Neal will be playing for his sixth team, but this isn't just any team for a former Laker.
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Shaq is latest in long line of NBA Benedict Arnolds

Posted Sep 12 2010 4:06PM

If the Civil War had gone on long enough, is there any chance Ulysses S. Grant might have eventually donned the gray of the Confederacy and started talking with a southern drawl?

Some things just don't seem right.

Try to picture a traitorous Magic Johnson running up and down the creaky parquet floor of the old Boston Garden and whipping no-look passes in traffic while wearing a green shamrock on his shorts. Can you even begin to imagine turncoat Larry Bird in a purple Lakers jersey without your eyes starting to bleed?

Rivalries, after all, are rivalries. They're sacred. They're bone deep. They're innate.

So how in the name of blood oaths do you reconcile Shaquille O'Neal -- the Big Mercenary, the Big Gypsy, MDE (Most Disloyal Ever) -- jumping over the fence to end his career on the other side of the Laker-Celtic feud?

Actually, he's not alone. Here's a look at some of the most prominent stars who've played on both sides of some of the best rivalries in NBA history.

Shaquille O'Neal -- The Ayatollah of Scramola is joining his sixth different team, so at this point in a 19-season NBA career there aren't many rivalries in which he hasn't taken part. So many cities, so many feuds, most of the personal and most of them of Shaq's own making. He couldn't resist belittling Orlando on his way out the door, warred with Kobe Bryant and Jerry Buss in L.A., kicked dirt on Pat Riley while leaving Miami and even managed to kick poor Mo Williams while leaving Cleveland. Maybe Shaq never grasped the full depth of L.A. vs. Boston, because he never met the Celtics in the Finals. Oh, but if he meets up with Kobe next June, there will be blood.

Dennis Rodman -- Perhaps nowhere in NBA annals is there a more blatant example of hometown fans being willing to throw out their own sense of loyalty in exchange for more championships. For the first seven years of his NBA career, Rodman was part of the Detroit Bad Boys who beat up and beat down a young Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Rodman's Pistons eliminated Chicago three straight times (1988, 1989, 1990) and when the Bulls finally broke through with a 4-0 sweep in 1991, Rodman and his buddies walked off the floor without shaking hands. But all was forgotten when Rodman blew into the Windy City for his 1996-98 run and played a key role in Air Jordan's second "Three-peat." He's a Bad Boy, but now he's our Bad Boy.

Karl Malone -- For the lion's share of his nearly two-decade career that saw him finish as the second-highest scorer in NBA history, the Lakers were the scourge of his Utah Jazz in the Western Conference. The Mailman entered the league for the latter part of the Lakers' 1980s dynasty and banged his head on the L.A. wall in frustration. When the Jazz finally took the Lakers out in the playoffs in 1997 and 1998, they couldn't finish the job, losing in the Finals to the Bulls. But at the tail end of his championship-ring-starved tenure, Malone showed his desperation when he jumped at the chance to collect bling with Shaq and Kobe in 2003-04. Of course, the Pistons had other ideas in the Finals.

Don Nelson -- Most NBA fans are familiar with Nellie's legendary shot in Game 7 of the 1969 Finals that kicked high off the back rim and then fell straight through the hoop enabled the Celtics to once again defeat the Lakers. It was the game that kept the balloons hanging in the rafters at the Forum in frustration and allowed Bill Russell to end his career with another championship. But how many realize that Nelson spent two of his early years in the NBA as a Laker? He was waived by the Lakers in October 1965, signed as a free agent by Boston seven days later and the rest -- winning five championships with the Celtics -- is history.

Wilt Chamberlain -- Wilt was a victim of circumstance more than a fence-jumper. He played the first three seasons of his NBA career with the Philadelphia Warriors before the franchise relocated to San Francisco for the 1963-64 season. A year later, when the Syracuse Nationals became the 76ers, he was traded back to Philly. In 1966-67 Chamberlain averaged 24.1 points and 24.2 rebounds as the Sixers won their first championship -- beating San Francisco in the Finals.

Charles Barkley -- Two years in a row Barkley's Phoenix Suns had the Houston Rockets buried in what seemed like an insurmountable hole in the second round of the playoffs. The Suns held a 2-0 lead in 1994 and a 3-1 lead in 1995 and yet the Rockets beat the odds both times, not only winning the series, but going on to claim back-to-back championships. When the Rockets wore pinstriped uniforms that looked like pajamas in 1995, Barkley chided: "It's a disgrace to make champions dress like that. It's embarrassing." One year later, following a trade to Houston, Barkley was asked about the uniforms. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," he replied. During his three seasons in Houston, the Rockets never returned to the Finals.

Clyde Drexler -- Clyde the Glide had become one of the all-time greats and a legend in Portland since becoming the first-round draft pick of the Blazers in 1983. He was a perennial All-Star, a member of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team and twice (1989, 1992) had led Portland to the Finals. The Blazers thought they were ready for another run in 1994, but were wiped out in the first round of the playoffs by the Rockets when his former college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon was splendid. Just nine months later, Drexler got himself traded to his hometown of Houston and was a key in the Rockets' defense of their title.

Mark Jackson -- A New Yorker by birth and through and through, Jackson played the first five years of his NBA career with the Knicks. But the playoffs wars between New York and Indiana were just heating up when Jackson was the starting guard for the Pacers team that eliminated the Knicks 4-3 in the second round in 1995.

Robert Parish -- During his 13 seasons in Boston, The Chief won three championships and also eliminated the Bulls from the playoffs three different times (1981, 1986, 1987), sweeping every series for a perfect 10-0 record. After one year in Charlotte, Parish closed out his career by signing on as a free agent with the Bulls and going out in style with his fourth championship in 1997.

Rick Fox -- The glory days of the championships were already becoming a faded memory when Fox arrived in Boston as a first round pick in 1991. The Celtics made the playoffs three times in his six seasons with the team, but lost in the first round every time. He joined the Lakers as a free agent in 1997 and was a valuable role player in the L.A. "Three-peat" from 2000-2002. In a most interesting twist on the rivalry, Fox was officially traded back to Boston in 2004 in a package with Gary Payton and a draft pick for Chris Mihm, Chucky Atkins and Jumaine Jones. But he retired before putting the green jersey on again.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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