Tonight, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant will face each other for the second time since “the divorce” (or the third time, counting the All-Star Game). What used to be the best story about basketball has now become the best story in basketball … which has nothing to do with basketball. It has become a saga of Bush/Moore proportions, one that makes 50 and The Game’s beef look vegetarian, one that has an impact on a generation much like that of two hungry, young, gifted MCs who came into the game to prove they had skills and prove that they belonged and wound up changing the world.

Theirs is a story that really isn’t one, this Kobe and Shaq tale. They played together for six years. Half the time together they won chips, the other half they didn’t. At times, they loved each other; at times, they didn’t. The “B” in the NBA stands for business: trades happen; free agency occurs when contracts expire; coaches retire. We the media made a story out of this. We the media will continue to do so. The angle: a severed friendship. “It’ll be better than ‘Tilt,'” a producer will scream to an announcer, an editor to a reporter. A real-life soap opera. Too bad Mark Burnett didn’t think of it first.

They will say nothing to each other. Kobe might make an attempt to holla, Shaq will make an attempt not to hear it. “General Hospital” material. But what makes the Shaq/Kobe dynamic die-namic is not what doesn’t exist anymore between them; it’s the nature of what has been created. The hatred, the betrayal, the fact that none of us knows whom to blame, the fact that both of them are to blame. “One More Chance” or “Hail Mary”? Can’t choose both.