by Lang Whitaker

A few things to cover today…also, want to tease you by noting that I’ve got something amazing planned for next week. You’ll know it when you see it.

• Last night I finally caught up on some of my DVR backlog and watched a couple of episodes of Shaq’s new TV show, “Shaq’s Big Challenge.” And it was awesome.

This reality show follows six middle school students down near Miami who are all grossly overweight, to the point where they were each classified as morbidly obese. There are four boys and two girls, but there are really three break-out stars. Chris is an 11-year-old who has been really getting into it and has already lost about 25 pounds. Kit is a goth kid who often shows up to the workouts wearing horror makeup.

My favorite kid is Walter. Walt is 14, and he weighed 285 at the start of the program. He’s obviously an outcast of sorts, but he’s totally bought into the show and has been dropping weight like crazy. Plus he’s got a good sense of humor — last night when the doctor was about to tell him his latest BMI reading, Walt looked at him and said, “Give it to me straight, Doc.”

(And it says here that Walter’s favorite food is a pizza burrito, which I will allow simultaneously sounds pretty gross and pretty amazing.)

Shaq doesn’t do much on the show, just shows up from time to time, meets with school officials and encourages the kids. The grunt work is mostly done by a mohawked trainer named Tarik, who works the kids out and makes them sweat. There’s also a frighteningly muscled doctor who hangs around and helps coordinate things.

And then there’s Tyler Florence, a formerly well-regarded chef here in New York who now shills for that noted gourmet outpost Applebee’s. Florence is charged with helping Shaq redesign school lunch menus, and he’s just a disaster at it. His first attempt at fixing their food begins and ends with none of the cafeteria ladies able to get the food ready in time. His second attempt involved buying tons of broccoli and then almost every kid throwing away the tons of broccoli. Why they didn’t just use Jamie Oliver, who did the same thing in England to way better results, I don’t know.

Anyway, great show, worth watching. I just have to figure out how to get Walt for a Dime Drop.

• A shout out for my good friend and probably the best magazine writer out there — plus he’s a Linkstigator.

Mike Sager has a new book out, Revenge of the Donut Boys. Mike’s a senior writer at Esquire and the book is a collection of a lot of his best stuff from Esquire. Plus he writes about spending time with Ice Cube and being on the tour bus with Slayer, so I know Russ is going to buy it.

And all of you who appreciate great writing should go get it, too. It’s available here.

• There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to take a stand, when he has to define his principles and stand by them, for better or worse. And it looks like that time is coming for me.

Starbucks announced that they will be raising their prices next week. It’s not a significant hike — an average of 9 cents per drink — but I think I may be drawing my line in the sand. I go to Starbucks at least twice a day, once on my way to work and once in the afternoon. I know, I know — I’m helping corporate America and squeezing out the little guy. Well, if the little guy could make a Cafe Americano as well as they do at Starbucks, I go to the little guy. But they can’t so I don’t. Plus, I live above a Starbucks, so it’s incredibly convenient for me.

But this is the second time Starbucks has raised prices in less than a year. They’re blaming the rising costs of milk and dairy products, but I don’t buy it. It couldn’t have anything to do with Starbucks having roughly 245,000 stores in New York City, could it? Besides, I barely use any milk in my coffee, and I certainly haven’t used ten cents more milk per day over the last 10 months.

So this is where we are. A faceoff. Can I live without my caffeine? No way. Can I live without Starbucks? We might have to find out.

• I’d like to point out that now when you google “Mr. Ping Ping,” SLAMonline is the first link that comes up. This is good news and bad news. Good news because that means we’re leading the way on this story, flooding the zone, driving the tale of the mystical Mr. Ping Ping forward. Bad news because it means nobody else is doing any reporting on Mr. Ping Ping.

Last week I asked you guys to pick an NBA player that we could call Mr. Ping Ping, and you came up with a lot of suggestions, but I’m not sold on any one player just yet. Although I did love Toney Blare’s suggestion of Mannie Fresh and Cody’s a-alike call with Hakeem Olajuwon.

Here’s what I do know: You journalists over in Mongolia need to get to work! You call yourselves journalists? Come on! The public demands more on the story of Mr. Ping Ping! T-shirts are being sold! A legend is growing!

And on a personal note: Mr. Ping Ping, I beg you, please come to America. Visit our fair country. I will take you to a Knicks or a Nets game and allow you to choose the player that best represents your spirit and magic. I will also take you shopping at Baby Gap. We will become the closest of friends, language barrier be damned. You are the future of SLAMonline.

We all need to band together to figure out a way to make this happen.

• Finally, a quiz for all of you. If we’d had tests like this in college I would’ve made the Dean’s List.