Alpha dogs aren't always welcoming other alpha dogs into their group. That was evident in how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar treated a young Shaquille O'Neal. However, Shaq got the last laugh as he revealed the reason for his career game against Kareem.
Shaq's 61-point game
Shaq and Kareem did not get to play with each other, but their careers are forever entwined as Hall of Fame bigs that played for the L.A. Lakers. When O'Neal played for the Lakers, Kareem served as an assistant coach for the L.A. Clippers, and his dislike for the young star was evident. Meanwhile, Shaq admitted he wanted to show off to his idol on his 29th birthday.
"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."
The 61-point game made history as the highest output from a player celebrating their birthday on the same day. Shaq added that he would have scored 70 had Phil Jackson opted to play him for the rest of the game. But Shaq had already delivered his statement, intended for Kareem.
Great players need little motivation to get going, and O'Neal used a statement made by Kareem to inspire his play.
"You know Kareem said one time...if you said Shaq's putting up Kareem-type numbers. Kareem said 'How? He's not winning championships'...Now I'm like okay. Now I'm fucking pissed."
Animosity between Kareem and Shaq
A Reebok commercial featured some of the biggest names in the NBA in 1993. Shaq was just a youngster who won the Rookie of the Year award. Other players in the shoot were Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bill Walton. Kareem did not speak to O'Neal during the shoot and even allegedly walked off the set while others gave words of encouragement to O'Neal.
When O'Neal played for the Lakers, the animosity continued. Kareem didn't even recognize Shaq or make eye contact when they met in a restaurant. The Big Diesel later learned that Abdul-Jabbar was furious that people compared him to Shaq when O'Neal had not won a ring yet. For Kareem, a title was a rite of passage, and until Shaq proved himself by winning a championship, there was no discussion linking him and the young, dominant center.
It could have been a pride thing also. Young players are always compared to the veterans, and most don't appreciate the label "The next Michael Jordan" or "The next Kareem," as it also disrespects these legends' work in their careers. Young players have not proven anything yet, so comparing them to legends may look good on paper but may appear as an insult to these Hall of Famers.