Allison Samuels

Stories by Allison Samuels

  • Newsmakers

    He is superman, after all. So it shouldn't surprise anybody that Christopher Reeve has defied the odds again. Last week one of Reeve's rehab doctors, John W. McDonald, reported in a scientific journal that after years of intense therapy, Reeve can now move his right wrist, his hips and the fingers of his left hand. And he can feel sensations on his skin, allowing him to differentiate between a pin prick and soft cotton. No, Reeve still can't walk, button his clothes or breathe consistently without a ventilator--and no one can say whether he'll ever regain enough mobility to do any of that. But, even seemingly small advances are monumental after such a severe spinal injury. "I was blown away," says McDonald, of Washington University School of Medicine's Spinal Cord Injury Program. "His mind-set is just incredible."When he was thrown off his horse and shattered a piece of his spinal cord in 1995, nobody--other than Reeve--thought he would regain any significant movement or feeling...
  • What Beyonce Wants

    Beyonce Knowles is not pleased. The 20-year-old lead singer of Destiny's Child wants something to read while a stylist weaves her curly, honey-blond hair into a funky ponytail. More specifically, she wants the August issue of a certain magazine that her staff has been hiding from her. "I really don't want you to read it again," her publicist says, before reluctantly forking it over. Knowles is incredulous as she flips through the story, which, she says, barely mentions her role in the new "Austin Powers in Goldmember," and, instead, paints her as a pitiful and unstable diva. "It's like they don't think I'm human," she says. "That I need people to feel sorry for me and my so-called unhappy life. There've been ups and down, but I don't have an unhappy life. I'm doing just fine.''Blame the Beyonce backlash. Ever since two of the original Destiny's Child girls quit the Grammy-winning group, claiming nepotism by its manager (who happens to be Beyonce's father, Mathew), she has been...
  • Will Iverson Foul Out?

    Everyone knows that Allen is a pretty difficult guy to get along with," says an associate of Philadelphia 76ers superstar Allen Iverson. "And no one knows that better than his wife." Mrs. Iverson got a reminder of just how difficult when her husband, apparently convinced she was having an affair, threw her out of their $2.4 million mansion on July 1, clad in nothing but her panties. Now Iverson, 27, is facing arrest on criminal charges stemming from his armed hunt for his wife in the days after the fight. (Neither Iverson nor his lawyer returned calls.)Iverson's temper is legendary, from a Valentine's Day brawl in high school that landed him in jail for four months to his on-court feuds with 76ers coach Larry Brown. But this time, the all-star seems to have outdone himself. After Tawanna failed to come home for a day, Iverson and his uncle went looking for her. At 3 a.m. on July 3 they banged on the door of Iverson's cousin, Shaun Bowman, who had driven Tawanna away the night of the...
  • Newsmakers

    Will Smith has always been a man with a plan. With plans. Back when he was the rapper known as the Fresh Prince, he wanted to become an actor. As a movie star, he wanted to go beyond slam-bang summer action flicks ("Men in Black," "Independence Day") to serious character studies ("Ali"). And now he wants to do a love story. Love stories.He and his wife, the actress Jada Pinkett, have written a romantic picture together, but now Smith has put that on the back burner in favor of another longtime scheme: a remake of the oft-remade classic "A Star Is Born," about an up-and-coming actress's romance with a has-been star.The 1954 version--the one Smith likes--with Judy Garland and James Mason, made the film a musical. Smith will, too--he's always wanted to show off his singing voice--but he'll flip the roles: he'll be the up-and-comer. He already has a production deal with Sony Pictures; all he needs now is a green light, a script (he's tried several writers), a director and a leading lady...
  • Drama Queens

    Like a good piece of sweet-potato pie, "Soul Food" has finally found the right seasoning. "Soul Food" is the first African-American TV drama to make it to its third season, and its very survival provides a lesson in the ways of television. When "Soul Food" debuted, it was a solid if conventional family drama with so-so ratings--just the kind of program the networks would have canceled. But "Soul Food" appears on Showtime, and cable programmers are notably more willing to nurture a show until it finds itself--and the audience finds it. What's more, Showtime has built its schedule on programming that caters to niche groups: "Queer As Folk" is its No. 1 show, and the Latino-oriented "Resurrection Blvd." is also a strong performer. "Soul Food" serves an audience that's been notoriously ignored by the networks but is central to Showtime's mission. "We respect that we have so many different cultures tuning in to our networks, and we have to cater to them," says Jerry Offsay, president of...
  • Angela's Fire

    Angela Bassett has a flair for the dramatic. Two hours into a long, frank interview at a Beverly Hills lounge, the actress is asked why, after not starring in a movie for four years, she turned down a chance for the lead in "Monster's Ball." Bassett bolts out of her overstuffed chair, and throws out her arms in a gesture worthy of her idol, Bette Davis: "It's about character, darling." In "Monster's Ball," which won Halle Berry an Oscar, a black waitress has a graphic, tortured--and, Bassett believed, demeaning--affair with her husband's executioner. "I wasn't going to be a prostitute on film," she says. "I couldn't do that because it's such a stereotype about black women and sexuality.'' Bassett is clear she isn't criticizing Berry--just the way Hollywood views women in general and black women in particular. Several actresses, including Vanessa Williams, passed on "Monster's Ball" as well. "Film is forever," says Bassett. "It's about putting something out there you can be proud of...
  • It's All In The Jeans

    Want to look like a starlet? Just combine good genes with Seven jeans. At about $150 a pair, the butt-flattering pants are popular with everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Brandy, who's nine months pregnant. "Seven has just the right amount of stretch to fit all shapes," says a rep at L.A.'s Fred Segal. "That's the genius of it." After two years of being sold only at high-end retailers like Fred Segal and Curve in Beverly Hills, Seven jeans have finally hit upscale chains, including Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. But the brand isn't looking to dress just anyone. "You won't be seeing 'Ann' in Ohio with them on," says a rep. "Most people don't even know they exist." Well, until now.
  • Rappers Wax Nostalgic

    Dissing on vinyl has always been a rap mainstay: mike swipes meant more sales, more ink. But lobbing insults took a dangerous turn in the late '90s when ill will between Death Row Records and Bad Boy Entertainment was believed to have contributed to the murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. "It made everybody in the industry pause," says L.A. DJ Big Boy.It's "Go Time" again. In the last year, rap's stars have been at each other. The latest: Nelly vs. legend KRS-One, who said that Nelly's party-boy image isn't good for hip-hop. On Nelly's upcoming album he says KRS needs a "rap pension and attention." Last year Jermaine Dupri told a magazine he was a better producer than Dr. Dre. Dre responded by calling 5-foot-3 Dupri "Mini Me and a midget" on a rap. "I'm short," Dupri tells NEWSWEEK. "But what is that to say?" Earlier this month Dupri shot back on the Web. He called Dre "gay" on a re-recording of a track Dre produced. Dupri also questioned if Dre produces the music he...
  • Usher In A New Era

    As 10,000 mourners gathered in a cavernous televangelist church in suburban Atlanta last Thursday to pay their last respects to TLC's Lisa (Left Eye) Lopes, Arista Records chief L. A. Reid was left to ponder what would become of his musical family. There, in the next aisle, was Whitney Houston, whose personal troubles have eclipsed her talents of late. P. Diddy, in the middle of severing ties with the label, was a no-show. Then there were the two surviving members of TLC, once the biggest-selling girl group, sobbing over the loss of their trio mate. As TLC's Rozonda (Chilli) Thomas wept, her boyfriend wrapped a comforting arm around her. That arm belongs to the one person Reid can count on for solace himself these days: Usher.Reid didn't have much of a honeymoon at Arista. No sooner had he taken over the struggling label from its ousted founder, Clive Davis, than Davis launched his own label, J Records, with the biggest new act of 2001, Alicia Keys. Reid was left to mop up the red...
  • Mixing It Up

    When Memphis Grizzlies forward Pau Gasol was named NBA Rookie of the Year last week, the 21-year-old Spanish sensation became the first European player to capture the award. In a league long dominated by black stars, the fact that Gasol is white drew no attention. In fact, white rookies have now won the trophy two years running, a "double" almost as unlikely--it last happened almost 40 years ago--as the Halle-Denzel sweep that created so much buzz at the Academy Awards. The back-to-back rookie honors and the emergence of other young white NBA stars are flouting one of America's most entrenched sports stereotypes: contrary to conventional wisdom, white men can jump.For most of its history, the NBA included white stars--from Jerry West in the '60s to Bill Walton to Larry Bird--who competed at the game's highest levels. But when Bird retired in 1992, the white NBA star appeared to be a dying species, with ageless John Stockton in the role of the last dinosaur. In 1998, for the first...
  • Tackling A Tough Subject

    It's pretty clear Spike Lee is a history buff, so it's no wonder that his first HBO documentary, 1997's "Four Little Girls," about four black children murdered at Sunday school in 1963, was nominated for an Oscar. In his second HBO documentary, Lee addresses another tough subject: football great Jim Brown. "After 'Four Little Girls'," Lee tells NEWSWEEK, "I just kept thinking about what would be an interesting piece of history to put on film. Jim Brown seemed like an obvious choice.""The Jim Brown Story," which airs in December, takes its audience into the funny, bewildering and sometimes frightening world of one of the most controversial athletes of the 20th century, who just happens to be currently incarcerated. Shortly before filming started, Brown was charged with domestic violence and ordered to do community service, which entailed picking up trash on a California highway. He refused and is serving six months.The documentary recounts Brown's poverty-stricken life on St. Simons...
  • Taking Care Of Business

    Ask Tampa Bay wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson where he was 10 years ago this week, and he gives you a sheepish grin. "I responded the way most black young men 18 or 19 years old did during that time," says Johnson, now 29, who was attending the University of Southern California on a football scholarship when he learned that his boyhood neighborhood of South-Central was on fire. "I couldn't sit home and watch it on television. I think everyone around there was thinking, 'What do we have to lose?' South-Central was hell way before the riots."Whenever Johnson returns, he's reminded of a poor childhood spent sleeping in cars and serving time in juvie. And so it is with a measure of pride on this trip that he arrives at a new shopping center he helped get built at the corner of Western and Slauson, just down the road from where the riots first erupted. In other parts of L.A., this 275,000-square-foot stucco expanse with its British-sounding name, Chesterfield Square, might seem like just...
  • Television: Beating Carson Daily

    It isn't hard to find the intersection of 106th Street and Park Avenue in Harlem. Just follow the hundreds of teens clad in their hip-hop finest, lined up in front of the warehouse where Black Entertainment Television tapes its daily music countdown show. "106 & Park" has become a wildly popular program by featuring guest appearances by the likes of Puffy and Mary J. Blige, hip-hop video countdowns and, each Friday, a talent contest for would-be rappers. On this particular "Freestyle Friday," a 17-year-old Queens kid who calls himself Gin is rapping about street life in New York City and hoping for his seventh win in a row.Some 60 blocks south of here, a nearly identical scene plays out every afternoon, as teenagers line up in Times Square to see many of the same stars on MTV's "Total Request Live." The uptown audience is mostly black and the midtown one largely white. But there's a far more surprising difference between the shows. "106 & Park," which airs at 6 p.m. ET,...
  • Female Trouble

    Joan Clayson's life looks pretty familiar to a lot of black women. She's a hard-working thirtysomething with a good job, terrific friends, a fly wardrobe ... and no man in sight.Of course, Joan is only a character on the sitcom "Girlfriends." But her stories--and those of her friends Toni, Lynn and Maya--seem to ring true with many of today's black women. During the show's second season, which concludes next month, "Girlfriends" has become one of the top-rated sitcoms in black households.For obvious reasons, the program is regularly referred to as a black "Sex and the City." And yes, it's a comedy about four gorgeous women in an urban setting (this time, downtown Los Angeles), and the fashion is fierce. But there are also striking differences.The "Girlfriends" don't have endless amounts of money at their disposal. One of them is a secretary and another is a grad student. Nor do they have an abundance of hunky doctors and moguls to date and discard. On "Girlfriends," Lynn and her...
  • Will It Be Denzel's Day?

    Every career has its moment of truth. For Denzel Washington, it came on a March evening two years ago, when Gwyneth Paltrow took the stage at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium to announce what many friends and fans hoped would be his first Academy Award for best actor. "I remember buying three Armani suits for that night because I just knew Denzel would win and we were going to party all night long,'' recalls "Boyz N the Hood" director John Singleton. But Washington sensed he wouldn't carry the night. Controversy had erupted in the weeks before over whether his film "The Hurricane" had glossed over the more unsavory facts about real-life boxer Rubin Carter; by the time Hollywood marched down the red carpet, the smart money was on the critics' favorite "American Beauty" and its star. ...
  • Crossing Over

    Last year, after over a decade in the music business, Lenny Kravitz finally landed a magazine cover that rocked his world. It wasn't Rolling Stone. Nor was it Vanity Fair, Us Weekly or even NEWSWEEK. "I got Essence!" exclaims the singer. ...
  • Alicia Keys

    Alicia Keys is having a funky hair day. R&B's new queen is in a New York brownstone doing a cover photo shoot for Essence magazine, but her signature braids are a bit too frizzy, and her personal braider will have to unravel her lengthy mane and begin again. Keys used to braid her own hair until her little gospel gem of a song, "Fallin'," hit the charts and catapulted her to stardom. The 20-year-old Bronx, N.Y., native released her debut album, "Songs in A Minor," in June, right at the start of Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious" summer. Six million fans eager for more talent and less cleavage (and obviously less booty) quickly migrated to Keys's melodic voice and smooth piano skills. With a soulful crossover appeal not seen since Janet Jackson, Keys's luminous beauty and dressed-down jeans-and-do-rag glamour won both mainstream and hard-core hip-hop fans handily. Both Mark Wahlberg and Snoop Dogg eagerly pronounce themselves members of her fan club."It took off and it just didn't...
  • 'They Know I'm About Something'

    Growing up in a poor Los Angeles neighborhood that still shows scars from the 1992 riots, David Ramirez watched friends wind up in juvie, or worse, after getting involved in theft and other small-time crimes. He knew he was headed in the same direction if he didn't get a plan.So in the ninth grade, David enrolled in the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at Inglewood High School. Though he thought the olive uniforms were dorky, David liked the sense of purpose he'd seen in others who enrolled. "The more free time you got, the more you're bound to end up in some type of trouble," says David, now 17. "Plus, I didn't want to be home that much. In ROTC, everyone's family.'' He likens his school's ROTC to a secret fraternity. "When I walk in my neighborhood now, the gang guys see me in my uniform and they leave me alone. They know I'm about something."Dare we say it? ROTC is cool again. Started in 1916 when the United States was faced with world war, ROTC fell out of favor...
  • Newsmakers

    In the mood for celeb spotting at Hollywood hot spots? These days it's easier finding stars in L.A.'s smoggy skies. The terrorist threat has famous folks running for cover--or the nearest gas-mask purveyor. Jennifer Aniston backed out of charity gigs and plans to skip the twice-postponed Emmys. On the other coast, Gwyneth Paltrow admits she's terrified during public appearances. And even B-list Shannon Elizabeth set up a safe house in Wyoming and bought mini gas masks for her five dogs. (Why would she be a target? Her performance in "Tomcats" wasn't that bad.) "Because stars are used to being the focus of attention, they tend to feel more anxious than the rest of us who can take comfort in anonymity," says Alan Hilfer, senior psychologist at Brooklyn's Maimonides Medical Center. It's strange to see stars worrying about terrorists. We're just so used to their thinking only about themselves. ...
  • Hot Dogg!

    He entered the rap world in 1992 with a lazy Southern drawl, a lanky physique and a name built for fame. Snoop Doggy Dogg, as he was then known, first hooked hip-hop fans with his underground hit "187 on a Undercover Cop." That year he also penned most of the songs on Dr. Dre's definitive album "The Chronic." By the time his debut record "Doggystyle" was released in 1993, the 22-year-old writer-rapper had such an enormous following that the album entered the charts at No. 1--the first rap record ever to do so. Much media attention followed, including the cover of Rolling Stone. Big things seemed in store for Snoop.Instead, due to many arrests and controversies, it's taken almost a decade for Snoop Dogg--as he's called himself since 1999--to achieve something close to mainstream success. The audience reception toward "Bones," a horror flick that opened Wednesday with Snoop as its lead, may be the truest indicator yet as to whether he has indeed finally transcended his bad-boy rap...
  • 'Minor' Is Major

    Songstress Alicia Keys likes nothing more than to mix a little Beethoven with a dash of Biggie when she sits down to compose. The influence both artists have had on her is instantly evident in her debut release "songs in A minor,'' which sent the music world spinning when it premiered at No. 1 on the Billboard charts two weeks ago. From the sample of Chopin that opens her hit song "Falling,'' to the hip-hop-laced "Girlfriend," Keys's eclectic mix of something old and something new is striking a chord with radio stations looking for the Next Big Thing.President of J Records Clive Davis figured he'd found something pretty special when he signed the 20-year-old away from Columbia Records and onto his upstart label last year, following his ouster from Arista Records after 25 years. Anxious to show that he still had the touch, Davis, 68, put his hands-on approach into overdrive with his new find. He wrote a two-page letter to Oprah, asking that she let the singer perform on her show....
  • Honey, I Shrunk The Rappers

    Ten-year-old Lashawn Bailey is screaming so loud that tears are streaming down her caramel-colored face. On this Saturday night, she and about 1,000 other little brown girls have packed into the Wiltern Theatre, in Los Angeles, dressed in their flyest gear. The girls are there to see their idol, but he's taking far too long to emerge. So they begin to shout at the top of their lungs, "Bow Wow, Bow Wow, Bow Wow,'' and finally, in a haze of smoke and bright multicolored lights, the object of their desire--14-year-old Shad Moss, a.k.a. Lil' Bow Wow--appears onstage in all his cornrowed glory. The girls go wild as the miniature rapper dances and skips, doing hip-hop proud with his fast-paced lyrical flow and diamond-studded Mickey Mouse medallion. "When I say 'Bow,' you say 'Wow'," he says--and do they ever.In this age of 'N Sync, the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, teen mania is finally crossing over. Kids 12 and up have been spending an estimated $155 billion a year on music and...
  • Scared Silly

    Two years ago Shawn and Marlon Wayans cooked up an idea they just knew their brother Keenen would love. They wanted to do a spoof of teen slasher films like "Scream''--and they wanted him to direct. Keenen, ever the big brother, told them to make sure they did their homework. So Shawn and Marlon watched more than 100 scary movies. They hated the chore, but figured their eldest brother--who'd put the family on the map with the hit TV show "In Living Color"--knew what he was talking about. Good instinct. "Scary Movie'' was a sleeper hit, taking in more than $160 million worldwide and making Keenen Ivory Wayans, 43, the most successful black director in history.Now comes the really scary part: proving it wasn't a fluke. Dimension Films, which made $480 million with the "Scream" trilogy, smelled another killer franchise in the offing. At last year's premiere of "Scary Movie," Dimension's Bob Weinstein ordered Wayans to come up with a sequel in record time. "We knew we had a huge hit and...
  • Life With Father

    Richard Williams watched as the crowd turned on his youngest daughter. This was supposed to have been a glorious victory for Serena, who'd long trailed her sister Venus in the rankings and hadn't won a major tournament of her own in months. Instead, Serena's big win at Indian Wells, Calif., this past March was greeted with the angry sound of fans yelling "loser" and "cheat." Why had the crowd, always so fascinated by his golden girls, suddenly become so surly? And who was to blame? Serena was going to face Venus in the semifinals, but at the last minute Venus pulled out, saying she had a knee injury. Rumors that the father had ordered one daughter not to compete against the other began swirling with gale force. Once again, Richard Williams found himself in the eye of the storm.That's exactly where he's most comfortable. Williams consistently manages to rile the tennis world with his inflammatory remarks. Not about to sit back and take the heat for the uprising at Indian Wells,...
  • Tiger's 'Brothers'

    The young man had come to the United Center in Chicago because he needed help. At the age of 21, Tiger Woods had just won the '97 Masters--by an amazing 12 strokes--and the rush of fame was overwhelming. So he sought the advice of the only other person who he thought could relate: the world's greatest basketball player. Woods waited patiently for Michael Jordan to shower, complete his postgame interviews and sign the obligatory autographs. Then the two sped away in Jordan's black Porsche to Lake Michigan, where they boarded a luxury casino boat to relax away from the glare of the spotlight. The two men, who had previously chatted only in passing, talked into the wee hours about the pressures of fame, the strain of competition and what it means to be in the select group of people known as the "greatest ever."A friendship was struck that night, and soon Tiger found himself part of Jordan's inner-inner circle, along with former basketball player Charles Barkley and pro-foot ball star...
  • Kobe: Thanks For Sharing

    Kobe Bryant never imagined that watching his Los Angeles Lakers win could be so humbling. But confined to the bench with an ankle injury for a couple of weeks in March, Kobe couldn't kid himself: the defending NBA champion Lakers were clearly playing better without him. All season long the 22-year-old superstar had infuriated his teammates with his selfish play and aggravated Shaquille O'Neal, the league's reigning MVP, by challenging his leadership. Coach Phil Jackson had warned Kobe that the spat with Shaq could even jeopardize his Laker career. Bryant tried to distract himself by thinking about his impending nuptials, only a few weeks away. And it suddenly dawned on him how "for better or worse" just might apply to his team as well. "He was starting a whole new life with a lot of new rules," says a teammate in whom Kobe confided. "If he was going to have to share toothpaste and the remote with his wife, why not the ball with his team too?"When Kobe returned to action in April, he...
  • Suge As Media Event

    Growing up as an only child in Augusta, Ga., I regularly spent time with my grandmother, the daughter of a share cropper who put eight daughters through college during the 1950's and 1960's. She revered Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahalia Jackson; she even had the infamous velvet wall hanging of them at the Last Supper on her dining room wall. ...
  • Hits Until The End Of Time

    Tupac Shakur was a huge basketball fan--he even portrayed a wanna-be ''baller'' in the 1993 film "Above the Rim." But the rapper had never been to a professional basketball game before Suge Knight took him to one in 1996, shortly after Shakur signed with Knight's Death Row Records. "It was the Lakers versus the Bulls, with Michael Jordan playing,'' recalls Knight. "Pac was jumping up and down in his chair, cheering like a little kid. I could tell no one had done anything like that for him before," says Knight, who became a father figure to Shakur. ...
  • Suge Knight Is Back In Business

    For nearly five years, Marion (Suge) Knight, the multimillionaire impresario of gangsta rap, has been sitting behind bars in a California prison, dreaming of Death Row. In a matter of days, his time will be up. "The first thing that I'm gonna do when I get out of here is take an hourlong bath," says Knight, the cofounder of the rap label Death Row Records. "I'm sick of showers." Next week, Knight is set to be released from Mule Creek State Prison near Sacramento, after serving five years of a nine-year term on assault-related charges. He'll spend up to two months in a federal halfway house or work-release program (his lawyer doesn't know yet which); by midsummer, he should be home. "Then, I'm going to get me a double cheeseburger and some chili-cheese fries. I've been thinking about them motherf-----s for five years." ...
  • Wall Of Soul

    When her debut album, "Who Is Jill Scott?" hit the music racks last July, the soul artist decided she didn't want to shout the answer from the rooftops. There'd be no full-spread ad in Rolling Stone, no "Live With Regis," no cardboard cutouts in Virgin Megastores--even though the man with the money behind her record label, NBA legend Michael Jordan, could have guaranteed that and more. Instead, Scott and her Hidden Beach Recordings opted for a more grass-roots approach. Release day found her at a black-owned mom-and-pop record store down the street from her West Philly home, and in the weeks that followed she plugged her work with visits to high schools in Brooklyn and South-Central L.A. Anyone who really wanted to know who Jill Scott is would have to buy her album. ...
  • Ready For His Close-Up

    It was like watching Ricky Martin emerge from the backstage door and head for the limo--except this was the usually sedate environs of spring-training baseball. The thousands of fans thronging the Texas Rangers' complex in the backwater of Port Charlotte, Fla., were there to watch Alex Rodriguez, 25, arguably the game's best shortstop ever. Rodriguez made history when he signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with Texas, the biggest in sports. The young kids know a baseball hero. The young women know a hunk. All day long, a flock of fans follows him, from the batting cage to the infield to the far reaches of the outfield. After four hours of workouts, most of the Rangers are done for the day. But Rodriguez plops down in a lawn chair, where he signs balls, bats and shirts for hundreds of fans while bantering good-naturedly. When one young woman invites him home for dinner, he flashes a megawatt smile and asks, "What you cooking?" ...
  • The Nba's No-Shows

    L.A. vs. New York figures to be a showcase for NBA excitement. But by the time the Lakers arrived for their once-a-year showdown against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden last month, the dysfunctional L.A. team bore little resemblance to last year's NBA champion. Its two superstars, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, were embroiled in a fierce public squabble over who was "the man." While Bryant played a one-man game, his teammates stood around and glowered. And O'Neal, who sat out the contest with a foot injury, never even emerged from the locker room for an NBC cameo. The Laker loss was its 15th--two more than the team suffered all last season. Meanwhile, Bryant appears to be reaching new heights of selfishness. "I already have a ring," he told a confidant. "Now I want to get a scoring crown and an MVP trophy."Everyone expected the NBA to stumble after Michael Jordan's departure and a bruising labor battle that wiped out almost half a season. But the game that captivated America...