When Shaquille O’Neal was in his prime, he was bigger, stronger, and better than nearly every other player in the sport. So angering him wasn’t exactly a recipe for success.
Shaquille O’Neal was in the prime of his career
After four elite seasons with the Orlando Magic, it was hard to imagine Shaq getting any better. But the big man found a way to improve even more once he donned the Purple and Gold.
In O’Neal’s first three seasons with LA, the 7-foot-1 center averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Paired with Kobe Bryant, Big Diesel led the league in field goal percentage twice, becoming the most dominant finisher in the NBA. But the world wasn’t ready for Shaq’s fourth year in Hollywood.
The 27-year-old O’Neal was a force to be reckoned with. In 1999-00, Shaq led the league with 29.7 points per game on 57.4% shooting. But he also averaged 13.6 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, and a career-high 3.8 assists. He was noticeably in shape and giving excellent effort on both sides of the basketball for a first-place Lakers team.
“Shaq is in great condition,” teammate Brian Shaw said during the season. “He’s blocking shots and rebounding like never before. I played with him for three years in Orlando, and he didn’t get after it on defense like this.”
O’Neal’s rejected ticket request fueled his record-setting game
On March 6, 2000, the Lakers were playing the LA Clippers “on the road.” O’Neal also happened to be celebrating his 28th birthday. The big man was hoping to invite some family members to the game to celebrate his special day. However, Shaq arrived at Staples Center and received word the Clippers denied his ticket request.
From that point, the 28-year-old was a man possessed. O’Neal scored a career-high 61 points to go with 23 rebounds. He shot 24-for-35 from the field and made 13 of his 22 free-throw attempts. After the game, The Los Angeles Times wrote that O’Neal, “ripped through the Clippers’ collection of big men as if they were wet food stamps.”
“We tried to do everything conceivable to stop him and slow him down,” Clippers coach Jim Todd said. “He just had it going and it was tough going against Goliath. He obviously wanted to make a point. … I hoped he would stop at 50.”
The Lakers easily won the game 123-103. Afterward, O’Neal’s message was clear: “Don’t ever make me pay for tickets.”
Shaquille O’Neal continued his dominance for several more seasons
While O’Neal never matched 61 points again, he ended up with a lot more hardware after the season. O’Neal was nearly the first unanimous MVP in league history, leading LA to the title and winning Finals MVP. The next two years were very similar, as Shaq averaged 27.9 points and won two more rings and Finals MVPs.
In Shaq’s eight seasons with the Lakers, the Hall of Famer averaged 27.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks. He made seven All-Star teams, six All-NBA First Teams, and eventually saw his number 34 retired and a statue of his likeness outside Staples Center.
Following his time with the Purple and Gold, Shaq still made four additional All-Star teams and won a title with the Miami Heat. He now sits eighth on the all-time scoring list, sixth in offensive rebounds, eighth in blocks, and seventh in field goals made.
But there was no greater version of Shaquille O’Neal than the one who spent a birthday seeking revenge against a team who denied him tickets.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.