Skip to main content

How Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s insults inspired Shaquille O’Neal’s 61-point game

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar used to ignore a young Shaquille O'Neal which fueled a statement game from The Big Diesel.
How Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s insults inspired Shaquille O’Neal’s 61-point game

Shaq was motivated by Kareem to go for a career-high in points

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."

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

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. 

Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan is frustrated with players who don’t do their homework – “Most of the guys would play video games”

DeMar DeRozan is frustrated with the fact young players would rather play video games than study game film.


“You can just see how bad he wants it!” - DeMar DeRozan shares what makes Giannis Antetokounmpo so good

DeMar DeRozan is in awe of Giannis Antetokounmpo's growth and desire to be the greatest

Muhammad Ali and Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan

When Michael Jordan did the Ali Shuffle against the Miami Heat

Michael Jordan showed off some fancy footwork against the Miami Heat.

Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and Elon Musk

“The most important thing is imagination” — Kobe Bryant on how billionaire Elon Musk inspired him

Kobe Bryant and Elon Musk were highly successful because they spent their whole life learning and mastering their crafts.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid talks with guard James Harden

How James Harden will make Joel Embiid the NBA MVP

James Harden's contribution will be crucial for Joel Embiid to have a shot at 2022-23 MVP


Nick Young shares a cheerleader got fired for sleeping with him and Andray Blatche in his rookie season

While talking about the Ime Udoka situation, Young reflected on a completely different outcome in his case.

Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan

“It's not really pornographic unless it says Michael Jordan.” — one of Michael Jordan's funniest skits on SNL

In 1991, SNL had Michael Jordan do several skits of inappropriate commercials for his monologue.