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CALIPARI HAS UNUSUAL SENSE OF LOYALTY

It's amusing to read John Calipari's uncontested declaration of what a loyal subject he was at the University of Massachusetts. Stayed eight years, he crows, a fact thoughtlessly recorded by Secaucus stooges. Rejected numerous opportunities to advance, Coach Cal gloats, and, oh, coincidentally, capitalized on those overtures -- authentic or planted -- each and every time, in terms of a renegotiated contract.

Not that Calipari should be dishonored for playing his market value for whatever it's worth and his fawning faithful like the saps they are. Nor does it make him a bad guy for beating it out of Amherst before Marcus Camby's jewelry was officially appraised. More power to him. The propaganda he pushes obviously works.

At the same time, don't insult the sense of suspicion in the rest of us by claiming fidelity is a factor when it's nothing more than fluff.

Why else, I submit, would Calipari bother the Nets for an escape clause in his contract after the third (1998-99) season? Far be it from me to blame him for wanting a chance, if his stock is up, to check out more lucrative options.

Come on, we're big boys, we don't cry. We know it's all about the Benjamins, and we're not talking about Benoit. We know it's all about keeping up with the Pitinos. Yet Calipari insists on treating us like practice dummies, pretending to take offense at the notion he'd actually consider ducking out the back for a bulkier bank balance.

Allegiance, my butt. Self-glorification, that's Calipari's method of operation. Allow me to elucidate:

Barely on the job in Jersey last season, Calipari elicited the help of Dick Vitale to seed sanctioned simpleton Rudy Martzke (of USA Today) with the counterfeit contention that UCLA coveted the Nets coach as Jim Harrick's replacement.

When besieged by the predictable media flood of focus, Calipari expressed just the right dosage of indignation at how such dastardly rumors get started.

Come to think of it, this latest speculation also has Calipari's fingerprints all over it. You don't suppose someone with my street smarts could've been sucked in, do you? If I didn't know Calipari was such a glutton for fame and fortune (an unattainable package as long as the Knicks and the Garden are in business), I'd be tempted to write myself off as just another one of his dancing partner dunces.

Rim shots

Shaquille O'Neal posted a triple double Friday in LA's win over Seattle, finishing with 24 points, 16 rebounds and 11 missed free throws. He finished 4 of 15 at the line and, at one point, was 1 of 11. The rest of the Lakers went 18 for 18. Shaq's 33 points and 22 boards Wednesday against the Suns made him the first non-potsmoking Laker to record a 30-20 since George Mikan.

Kareem says his doctor recommended marijuana for treating migraines and reporter's questions. Mookie Blaylock, hospitalized for dizziness Thursday, immediately made an appointment with Kareem's doctor.

Elden Campbell, who blocked four Sonic shots after going rejectionless in the previous six games, says he's getting his confidence back on defense.

My newest colleague at NBC, Doug Collins, wants us to know Theo Ratliff has been the league's leading shot blocker since the Pistons traded him to the 76ers in December.

Rick Sund says he can't fully evaluate the Jerry Stackhouse trade until after North Carolina's season is over. Some people already have seen and heard enough. After assimilating Stackhouse's glut of excuses for three seasons of mediocre play, an ESPN colleague said the free agent-to-be has "LA Clipper written all over him." I, too, see Stackhouse's style as being more conducive to the west, say, Guam.

Kobe Bryant may be in a slump, but I've noticed he's shooting a much higher percentage on his air balls this season.

Karl Malone says he wants Michael Jordan to play alongside a dominant center before he retires.

Dennis Rodman missed practice Thursday. "I just didn't feel like going." He was shopping for dresses for the Oscars.

Rodman complained to Phil Jackson about tendinitis in his hair.

Believe it or not, the Raptors have expressed a passing interest in Yinka Dare.

How does Dickey Simpkins feel about returning to the Bulls? "The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. I'm fortunate to be back on the side of the fence where the grass is plush."

Jeff Van Gundy warned Charles Oakley to stay out of early flagrant foul trouble today against Malone.

Gary Payton is quietly playing the best ball of Sam Perkins' career.

Nick Anderson's latest doctor's note reminds me Chuck Daly is the only member of the Magic not to miss a game because of an injury this season.

Now I see why Adonal Foyle came out early.

It's among Rony Seikaly, Chris Childs and Juwan Howard for comeback-to-the-team honors.

Sixer assistant Gar Heard thinks Tim Thomas may well be the team's best player because of his unnatural feel for the game. Not to mention the rookie's understanding of how little he knows. In practices, Thomas hears Larry Brown scream out his name "300-to-400 times a practice" and swears he loves the sound of it. "I've learned more this season than I did in all the other seasons put together. I welcome the attention because it's only making me a better player."

John Wallace, officially out of shape in Raptors coach Butch Carter's opinion, has increased his scoring average from 9.6 to 14.4, nonetheless. That's tops among any player who dropped double digit places on draft day.

According to sources, Rick Pitino asked Pervis Ellison to retire for medical reasons. Apparently the stress is too much for Pitino's family to handle.

Larry Brown is contemplating keeping Benoit Benjamin for the rest of the season and possibly longer. Now that he's getting the minutes, Benoit feels he's capable of putting up double bypass numbers every night.

Scottie Pippen said Sam Cassell should have waited another 1:14.2 before withdrawing from the Pacers game.

Hello, Phoenix. Pat Riley says Brent Barry -- scoreless in seven minutes Friday against the Warriors -- is thinking too much. "He has absorbed a lot and he's trying to do everything right, but he's doing everything wrong."

Barry responded by saying it's more creative in the west where there's not as much emphasis on per diem.

Do you realize there are more Barry brothers working in the NBA than lead officials?

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