LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Shaquille O'Neal is the latest Los Angeles Lakers connection to join a group headed by former Hollywood agent and Disney executive Michael Ovitz that's trying to bring an NFL team to the Los Angeles area.

Among others in the group are Lakers executive vice president Jerry West and former Lakers star Magic Johnson.

``I love football, it's the first sport I ever played,'' O'Neal was quoted as saying in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times. ``I remember intercepting a pass in my freshman year in high school and returning it for a touchdown and then someone hitting me in the knee late. That was it for my football career.

``But who wouldn't want to own a football team and be working with someone like Michael Ovitz? Me, wanting to be an entrepreneur, I look at Ovitz and he's already had that dream career.''

O'Neal, one of the NBA's top centers, called Ovitz and signed on after hearing of the project.

Ovitz plans to make a presentation to NFL owners in Kansas City Oct. 27, asking the league to award his group an expansion franchise to begin play at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in 2001 until a proposed 78,000-seat stadium can be built in suburban Carson.

``At our initial meeting, Shaquille just blew me away with his interest,'' Ovitz told the Times. ``...I think he personifies everything we're trying to do with this project.''

The New Coliseum Partners also are bidding to bring an NFL team to Los Angeles, which is competing with Houston for an expansion franchise.