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Despite What the Local Media Want You to Believe, the Orlando Magic Aren't "Soft"

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The highest-profile Orlando Magic news story last week was the ongoing war of words between Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal and Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy. It followed Orlando's win over Phoenix on Tuesday, in which O'Neal flopped while trying to defend Orlando center Dwight Howard. Van Gundy, who coached O'Neal for parts of two seasons with the Miami Heat, called Shaq out in the press. From the Associated Press:

"Note this," Van Gundy said. "It's not often that I will needle Shaq, because he's a big guy and he played for me and helped me win a lot of games. But he always talks about people flopping. Only one big guy tried to flop tonight. He tried to flop. So ask him about that. I told him something on the sideline. I said, 'C'mon now, all the griping you do about flopping and you're trying to take a flop.'"

Shaq fired back a few times, and the rest is history. Their sparring overshadowed O'Neal's pregame "dis" of Dwight Howard, which lent the flop in question some weight. After the game, Dwight and Shaq shared a hug at midcourt, which got one member of Orlando's media riled up. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel asserted that the Magic's handling of the whole ordeal proves they are soft, referring to them as the "Orlando Mollycoddlers." I implore you to read the whole piece, but in case you'd rather not, I believe this excerpt summarizes Bianchi's argument:

Now we know why the Mollycoddlers get bullied every time they play the Pistons. They can't even verbally defend themselves against an out-of-shape, over-the-hill 37-year-old narcissist.

Here's what really happened, though, and what we should take away from it: Shaq was clearly steamed that Van Gundy called him out, and he said a bunch of irrelevant, wrongheaded things--peppered with some expletives for good measure--in frustration. But steam is nothing more than hot air.

Which is precisely why the Magic need not defend themselves. Rashard Lewis and Rafer Alston have the right idea:

"It's fun and games," Rashard Lewis said.

"Shaq's a practical joker," point guard Rafer Alston said. "He's having fun."

If anything, Shaq's "attack" proves the Magic are taking the right approach. Bianchi believes that engaging in verbal warfare via the media would somehow prove this team is tough, that it would attest to its self-respect. The opposite is true. The Magic took the high road, the right road, and their fans should be happy that they're focused more on winning games than on boosting their egos.