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Shaquille O’Neal makes his 28th birthday one to remember as he scored a career-high 61 points with 23 rebounds as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Los Angeles Clippers 123-103 at Staples Center. It is the third time in his career that Shaq reached 50 points, with his previous best output coming in 1994 against the Minnesota Timberwolves as a member of the Orlando Magic.
Shaquille O’Neal was born on March 6, 1972, in Newark, New Jersey. His biological father was a top-rated high school player in New Jersey but lost a scholarship to Seton Hall when he got involved with drugs and was eventually sent to prison. While learning to play basketball at a local boys and girls club, Shaquille O’Neal’s mother married Phil Harrison, a career Army sergeant who proved to be a positive role model. A fact that Shaq rapped about in the song, “Biological Didn’t Bother.”
After becoming a military brat and living in Germany and San Antonio, where he excelled in high school and became one of the top recruits in the nation, Shaquille O’Neal chose to play at LSU. The Tigers coach at the time was Dale Brown, who was once stationed in the army with Shaq’s stepfather. At LSU, Shaquille O’Neal captured the country’s attention as a freshman, as the seven-footer began drawing comparisons to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar due to his power game under the basket and ability to make a hook shot. At LSU, Shaquille O’Neal was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and the 1991 AP Player of the Year. After his Junior season, Shaq declared himself eligible for the draft and was selected by the Orlando Magic with the first overall pick.
Shaquille O’Neal was passed over for the first Dream Team but became an instant star upon arriving in the NBA in 1992. Playing with the Orlando Magic, Shaq helped turn the fourth-year franchise into one of the most popular in the league, as he was voted to start in the All-Star Game as a Rookie. Shaquille O’Neal would win the Rookie of the Year, as the Magic just missed the playoffs at 41-41. Adding Anfernee Hardaway in the 1993 draft, the Magic made the playoffs in 1994 and reached the NBA Finals in 1995, with Shaq winning his first scoring title. A bigger than life personality, Shaquille O’Neal released rap albums and began acting in the off-season. This would lead to his exit from Orlando, as he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent in 1996.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Shaquille O’Neal became the centerpiece of the Lakers' efforts to restore their glory. The Center position is steeped in tradition, with the Lakers going back to George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers in the league’s early years. Joining stars like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq seemed like he was ready-made to be the next big Lakers’ star as a rookie named Kobe Bryant joined him.
The first three seasons in Los Angeles were somewhat of a disappointment, as the Lakers struggled in the postseason. In 1999 as they opened the Staples Center, things changed as Phil Jackson who guided the Chicago Bulls to six NBA Championships in eight years arrived, looking to create the NBA’s next dynasty. The 1999/00 season would be the finest season of Shaquille O’Neal’s career as he won the only MVP of his career and the scoring title with a career-best 29.7 ppg.
The night of his birthday game saw the Lakers playing as the road team at Staples Center, as the Clippers with whom they shared the new arena with, were the home team for the game on March 6th. The game was all about Shaq Diesel as he made 24-of-35 shots from the field and had a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter to finish off his magical birthday night, with three minutes left in the game. With the win, the Lakers improved to 50-11 on the season.
The night of Shaquille O’Neal’s 61-point night was the 16th straight win for the Lakers who were in the midst of a 19-game winning streak. The Lakers would go on to win the NBA Championship in 2000, the first of three straight, with Shaq winning the NBA Finals MVP in each season.