Shaquille O'Neal
(Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Lakers History: Shaq’s 61-Point Birthday Bash

by Rodrigo Azurmendi
Staff Writer

Shaquille O’Neal’s career game wasn’t meant to be on the night of his 28th birthday.

As he admitted years later, the Big Aristotle planned to take it easy on the L.A. Clippers on that first 6th of March of the new millennium as he organized his big celebration – at an aquarium, of all places.

He changed his routine, trading the usual 3-4 hour nap before the game for countless phone calls and a trip to get his car – a white Rolls Royce – detailed and ready for the occasion.

But with the Clippers being the home team that day at the brand-new STAPLES Center, O’Neal’s ticket allotment wasn’t going to be enough. The legend says the request for more was denied.

That, combined with a frisky first half from a team that was 12-47 at that point in time (worst in the NBA), proved to be the perfect recipe for an historic performance.

Showing an impressive array of post moves, O’Neal had 26 points at the end of the first half, but the Lakers were only up by a single point.

What came after intermission was an absolute demolition, a display of physical and technical dominance for the ages.

“He obviously wanted to make a point…I hoped he would stop at 50,” said Clippers interim head coach Jim Todd.

Shaq hijacked the offense, demanding the ball every time down the court. His teammates quickly realized this wasn’t a typical Monday.

With few double teams coming his way, the dunks started piling up. He would have 11 by the time it was all said and done.

Chick Hearn had warned the audience early in the first quarter:

“As long as they have the lineup in that they have, with (Pete) Chillcut guarding Shaq, Shaq can go for 1,000.”

It ended being a career-high 61 points on 24-for-35 from the field and 13-of-22 from the charity stripe, to the delight of a delirious crowd in downtown Los Angeles.

“They took care of me tonight,” he said. “I would like to thank my teammates. I would like to thank Phil Jackson for giving (me) the opportunity to do this.”

He added 23 rebounds and three assists – the last one an alley-oop to Kobe Bryant from the logo, representing an exclamation point on the night and a harbinger of things to come.

“Don’t ever make me pay for tickets,” he famously said afterward.

O’Neal won his only MVP trophy that season, and the first of 3 consecutive Finals MVPs, becoming the face of the second three-peat in the history of the franchise.

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