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Feuding stars team-up again for All-Star

THE NBA All-Star game will see the return of the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant pairing that once dominated league headlines.

Together they led the Los Angeles Lakers to three straight championships and four finals berths in five years, but that success was eventually overshadowed by the bickering that triggered their breakup.

On Sunday they'll be on the same team for the first time since the 2004 NBA finals, when the Lakers were knocked off by Detroit. They traded sporadic barbs through the years after O'Neal's departure, but say they've patched things up, with O'Neal saying they were never that bad in the first place.

"That will be kind of fun to see how well they hook up together," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who will coach them in the Western Conference team. "I think there's no doubt about the fact they'll have a relationship. They still are very friendly."

O'Neal was chosen to 14 straight All-Star games before missing last year during an injury-plagued season. Few players match his level of popularity with fans and fellow players.

"I'm a very lucky player because I went through three different eras of the All-Star game," O'Neal said. "I went through the Mike era, where it was Mike (Jordan) and (Charles) Barkley and all those guys, and I went through my era, where it was me all the time me and Kobe, and now it's the Kobe-LeBron, D-Wade era, Dwight Howard eras. So I've been lucky enough to go through all three of those transitions."

Jordan had a role to start the weekend, when the finalists for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame class were announced yesterday. The end was left for the players who have inherited his mantle as the best in the league.

Bryant and LeBron James have dominated recent All-Star games, combining for the last three MVP awards. James said the first three quarters are for fun, but, "the fourth quarter, that's when we all really start to play hard. The fourth quarter is buckle-down time. "It's fun to go out there and compete," James said. "I love playing against the best in the world and on this stage, it's the best 24 guys in the world. I kind of rise to that occasion."


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