NBA players are usually given the game ball to commemorate reaching a certain career milestone. But thanks to a Kings courtside fan, Shaquille O'Neal never got his for passing the 20,000-point mark.
Vandal scribbles expletive on O'Neal's ball
During a fourth-quarter timeout of the Kings' 107-99 victory over the Lakers on March 20, 2003, a vandal picked up the ball and scribbled the expletive directed at O'Neal -- it was allegedly written "Shaq is an a--hole." Kings season ticket holder Greg Rogers witnessed the event and played a key role in detecting the culprit.
"It was a timeout in the fourth quarter, and the referee put the ball down," he said to Sacramento Bee. "There were two guys seated in the front row seats opposite the Kings bench. They were with a boy about nine or 10. One of the guys grabbed the ball and handed it to the boy. I was watching with my wife. I said, 'Hey, that's neat. I'll bet that kid loves this.' Then one of the guys took out a pen and wrote on the ball. My wife and I saw it. A few seconds later, the kid tossed the ball back to the ref."
According to ESPN, Rogers said he could pick out who wrote on the ball out of a game film. But based on the rivalry between two teams -- this happened year after the controversial Game 6 in their WCF matchup -- such action isn't the thing that left the crucial witness surprised. "I'm surprised he doesn't come forward," Rogers said. "A lot of people want to shake his hand."
Shaq, who finished the game with 28 points, two of which made him the 28th player in NBA history to pass the 20k mark, expressed frustration with what took place at Arco Arena. However, the Lakers' superstar didn't allow one man's vandalism to take away from his historic night.
"History was made last night. You can't take that away from me. I hope the Maloof family doesn't condone this kind of action. I will not hold the city of Sacramento responsible, but whoever did this shows no class. I'm not mad at all. I know the Maloofs allow a lot of stuff. If they do condone this, I'll be very disappointed in that organization."
Shaquille O'Neal, ESPN
The game ball was returned to the Kings' officials, who promised to track down the person who defaced it. But Shaq, who had seen the ball as nothing more than a fouled piece of memorabilia, didn't want it anymore. "Send it to Mr. Stern,” he said. “He can see what goes on in certain arenas. I don’t want it. I’ll just get another ball and write something on it. I thought about it last night. I couldn’t really sleep last night I was so [upset].”
O'Neal was also upset that the Lakers organization didn't do more to show appreciation for his milestone during his first game back at Staples. And even though team officials wanted to, coming up with something felt impossible without the game ball to show for. That only added fuel to the fire for Shaq, who guaranteed his revenge the next time two teams go up against each other.
On April 10, he got his chance. And as always, the big man delivered. He led the Lakers to a 117-104 victory with 32 points and 16 rebounds on 14-for-23 from the field. However, it ended up being cold comfort after being deprived of a souvenir from his 20,000 career-point night.