Happy birthday, Shaquille O’Neal
Our favorite Shaq moments in honor of the big man’s big day
Imagine a pop culture universe without Shaq. Exactly! You can’t! The one and only Shaquille O’Neal turns 46 years young today. And except for Magic Johnson, it’s difficult to imagine a more engaging and personable megastar than the man with four championships, three Finals MVPs, one NBA MVP and precisely 5,732 nicknames.
This begs the question, though: What do you give the big man with seemingly everything (including a son on his way to one of the most prestigious college programs in basketball history)? Well, aside from the 2005 MVP he swears to this day Steve Nash stole from him, not much, if we’re keeping it a buck. That being said, The Undefeated compiled a list of our favorite Shaq memories. A lot on the court, a lot off. Either way, Shaq’s been the protagonist in many a favorite sports moment. Here’s ours. But don’t be shy, let us know yours too. Happy Shaq Day!
- Blue Chips. Where this 1994 film ranks in the pantheon of all-time great sports movies is a debate for another time. But it was proof that the Walt Disney World duo of Shaq and Penny Hardaway was just as entertaining on the big screen as they were on the hardwood. Long live “Neon” and the immortal “Butch McRae.”
- Shaq mooning the Sacramento Kings. The Lakers-Sacramento Kings was the rivalry in the NBA in the early 2000s. Just ask Doug and Jackie Christie. After an emotional Game 7 road win in the 2002 Western Conference finals — which followed a highly controversial Game 6 Lakers win that had the infamous Tim Donaghy’s name attached to it — Shaq bid farewell to his and Kobe Bryant’s hated rivals in the most fitting way possible. As the team bus pulled off, Shaq placed his, uh, “wagon” on the window, mooning Kings fans. And Bryant joined in. Let us all rejoice and be glad that were no camera phones then.
- Can’t stop, won’t stop: Don’t you ever, ever, ever forget that Shaq landed one of the all-time great Notorious B.I.G. verses on 1996’s “Can’t Stop The Reign.” That’s what we call juice.
- The real MVP: The record books show Michael Jordan was the 1996 All-Star Game MVP. But the award really should’ve gone to Shaq, who posted 25 points and 10 rebounds. Believe it or not, Jordan was booed for winning MVP. Even Jordan admitted the voters got it wrong, saying, “We were all shocked. I think all the players felt, like the fans, that Shaq had an MVP-type performance.” The catch was MVP votes were to be submitted by the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter, and His Airness dropped 10 third-quarter points that pushed a three-point East lead to 102-80 by the start of the fourth. Shaq scored nine in the final frame, fending off a West rally, but really the theatrics of all things Shaq Diesel that February 1996 afternoon are still too much to ignore two decades later. Not only did he pull off the greatest big man-on-big man dunk in NBA history when he folded David Robinson up like a lawn chair in front of his home crowd, he also shattered Jordan’s ankles to smithereens during warm-ups. Legend.
- I’m outta here: The Phoenix Suns bench scattering like roaches when the lights cut on when Shaq barreled toward them will never not be hilarious.
- The hot chip challenge: Shaq eating the Paqui Carolina Reaper chip, the world’s hottest potato chip, on Inside The NBA. You can’t pay for great TV like that.
- Instant classic: Speaking of great TV, Shaq tripping as he jumped out of his chair to beat Kenny Smith in a footrace on an episode of Inside The NBA became an instant GIF classic.
- Fight club: Shaq and Charles Barkley get into an argument at least every other Tuesday. But it’s always hilarious when they’re forced to watch their 2000 fight. But only because both believe they won when, in reality, neither won. The comedic factor never truly gets old though.
- Another classic: Shaq dancing with Jabbawockeez at the 2009 All-Star Game.
- Backboards beware: Who else has ever played with enough power to rip down multiple backboards? A Sports Illustrated story in 1991, when Shaq was a sophomore at LSU, reported, “O’Neal’s preferred subject is something he calls ‘rimology,’ which consists of his detailed investigation of the rims and backboards and basket supports at each foreign court the Tigers visit. The first thing O’Neal does is peer at the basket hardware and its moorings. He took one look before LSU’s Nov. 24 meeting with Villanova at the Springfield Civic Center in Springfield, Mass., in the Hall of Fame game, and knew there would be trouble. There was. Following an early Shack attack, the game had to be delayed for five minutes while a four-man crew realigned the basket support back into place … “
- The dunk that punctuated the comeback. 2000 NBA Western Conference finals. Game 7. It was coach Phil Jackson’s first season with the Lakers. Shaq had won his only regular-season MVP award. The Lakers had the best record in the NBA. But Portland was blowing out the Lakers in Game 7. Then the Lakers went on a 25-4 run over a 9:50 stretch. Bryant’s lob to Shaq punctuated the comeback. The duo would go on to win three consecutive titles together.
- “Can You Dig It?”: By 2001, all of the questions had been answered. And at the center of it all was the man whose teammates and friends called him “Big.” At the NBA championship celebration that June, before thousands in downtown L.A., Shaq grabbed the microphone and tried his hand at mimicking the good guys in the New York gangland movie The Warriors from 1979. And the crowd loved it. It even got a certain role player to dance worse than Elaine on Seinfeld. Mark Madsen nearly stole the show.
- Freestylin’: The Shaq-Kobe feud could easily have its own 30 for 30. And while this moment may not be the climax of the second act, it would surely be the moment everybody looked forward to most. And like many great moments in frenemy history, it took place in Las Vegas. On June 24, 2008, exactly one week after the Bryant-led Lakers lost in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics, Shaq grabbed hold of a mic inside a Sin City venue and began to freestyle. It became clear, quickly, that the Big Fella had a lot to get off his chest. Within a minute he fired shots at Patrick Ewing and even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. At this point, you could see it coming like an entry pass when O’Neal established his position in the paint. He was coming for Bryant. And, as one of his many nicknames would suggest, the Diesel lit fire to longtime rumors about the acrimonious relationship between him and his longtime Lakers compatriot with these legendary words: “Kobe, tell me how my a– taste.”
Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal, not conventional, never boring. Undefeated.