Shaquille O’Neal should have had every reason to celebrate on March 6, 2000. The former Los Angeles Lakers great turned 28 that day, and he had the chance to celebrate against the crosstown rival Clippers. But multiple factors put the festivities on a temporary hold.
The Clippers denied Shaq extra tickets for family and friends on his big day. However, that paled in comparison to the anger The Diesel felt once the game started, as a perceived slight from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led to O’Neal putting up one of the most incredible performances of his career.
One problem with Shaq’s story: It’s a lie
Shaquille O’Neal allegedly spotted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar telling Clippers reserve Keith Closs how to stop The Diesel
Despite his reputation as a prankster and fun-loving superstar, Shaquille O’Neal drew motivation from any number of sources. On the day he turned 28, the fuel seemed to come from a fellow Laker great.
On the “Tallest Tales” episode of NBA TV’s Open Court series, O’Neal revealed that he already felt tired from his pregame preparations for his birthday party. He needed something to boost his energy levels, and he’d get it from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Shaq said (h/t NBA YouTube channel) he saw Abdul-Jabbar giving Keith Closs, the Clippers’ reserve center, some pointers early in the game.
“I look over to the bench, and I see one of my idols telling Keith Closs how to stop me. I see Kareem saying ‘You gotta do this, you gotta do that.’ Now I’m pissed.”–Shaquille O’Neal, Open Court “Tallest Tales of the NBA”
At this time, Shaq had yet to win his first title. Like many superstars without a ring, he felt the scourge of those who scrutinized his apparent inability to elevate his teammates. Kareem is not above doling out criticism and, to this day, thinks he could handle O’Neal.
In any case, The Diesel apparently saw one of his childhood heroes putting the opponent on game. He quickly showed Cap and the Clippers why he is still regarded as arguably the most dominant force in NBA history.
O’Neal scored a career-high 61 points, including 51 in the final three quarters
With his big day off to a poor start, O’Neal decided he’d had enough.
After scoring 10 points in the first quarter, Shaq really set about to tormenting the Clippers. He scored 16 in the second period, finishing the first half with 26 points. The Big Aristotle picked up where he left off in the third quarter, scoring 16 more on 7-of-9 shooting from the field.
The first three quarters merely served as a precursor to Shaq’s big finish. He scored 19 points in just over nine minutes in the fourth quarter, finishing with a career-high 61 points on the night.
O’Neal shot 24-of-35 from the field for the game. He also grabbed 23 rebounds. The performance might have been even more prolific if Shaq cashed in at the free-throw line, but he went 13-of-22 from the charity stripe.
The Lakers cruised to a 20-point win, and the eventual 1999-00 league MVP sent a message to Abdul-Jabbar in the process. Only, as it turns out, Shaq made the whole story up … well, some of it.
O’Neal’s big night came at the expense of Closs, not Cap
Keith Closs did play a role in Shaq’s career-high performance. But the story has nothing to do with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Closs revealed on 730 The Game ESPN’s You Can’t Handle the Truth Podcast (h/t YouTube) that he had some pregame words with O’Neal regarding a suit he claimed Shaq paid for. According to Closs, the chiding continued during the game, as the former Clippers center routinely made remarks about women Shaq dated.
So, it would seem O’Neal took his anger out on Closs, not Kareem. That’s pretty humorous, given Closs (who also said he was drunk that night) did not play a single minute.
Oh, Shaq. From fake beefs with David Robinson to made-up stories about Cap’s role in his career-high night, O’Neal certainly has an imaginative mind.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.