Toys: The Smallest Big Guys

It's as if his opponents' dreams (and Phil Jackson's worst nightmare) have finally come true. There stands Shaquille O'Neal, just 1 5/8 inches tall. The towering Lakers center is one of 24 NBA stars who have been rendered in miniature by LEGO, the Denmark-based toy company. The new line of tiny characters, part of a worldwide licensing deal with the NBA, represents a number of firsts. Little Shaq, Mini Kobe and friends are the first LEGO figures based on actual people, as well as the first black LEGO figures in the 71-year history of the company. Sensitive to the suggestion that LEGO is targeting black toy buyers, company spokesperson Melinda Siemionko points out that the NBA characters also include the first-ever white LEGO figures, among them Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks. (Up to now, LEGO people have all been bright yellow.) But 18 of the NBA figures are black, and while the company says the toys are aimed at all groups, the little hoopsters could have particular appeal among African-Americans. (By race, the top LEGO markets are whites and Asians.) Working within the limitations of the medium--everybody has the same barrel-shaped head--LEGO's designers seem to have relied on hairstyles and whiskers to distinguish the players. Allen Iverson sports cornrows, while Predrag Stojakovic features a mustache and some funky-looking stubble. As for Shaq--well, even when he's reduced to the size of a midget's thumb, there's something about the guy that says, "Get out of my way."