- Shaquille O'Neal was a force to be reckoned with on the court, and he proved that on this day 17 years ago. With that in mind, we reflect on the NBA's best big man performances.
A dominant performance by a big man is unlike any other in the NBA. While a guard dropping 50 points is a display of supreme skill, a big man taking over signals complete dominance over the nine other players on the court. No matter who the opposing team sends to help, a dominant big man can shrug off defenders with ease, eliminating all who stand in his way.
On this day 17 years ago, Shaquille O’Neal unleashed a mammoth stat line on the Los Angeles Clippers, dropping 61 points and 23 rebounds in a 123–103 Lakers win. The lowly Clippers provided little resistance against the Big Diesel, failing to slow him down with former No. 1 overall pick Michael Olowokandi. The victory marked O’Neal’s career high in points and second-highest rebounding total in a single game. In Shaq’s honor, here are the 10 best games by a a big man in NBA history.
Wilt drops 100
There’s no other way to start this list than with Wilt. Chamberlain posted the most famous stat line in NBA history on March 2, 1962, scoring 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors in a 169–147 victory over the New York Knicks.
Chamberlain hit 36 shots on the night, going 36 of 63 from the field. But most impactful in Chamberlain’s ascent to the record books was his success at the foul line. The career 51% shooter made 28 of his 32 free-throw attempts, securing a record that still looks as unbreakable as ever.
Robinson wins scoring title
David Robinson entered the Spurs season finale on April 24, 1994, needing 33 points to win the NBA scoring title over Shaquille O’Neal. There wouldn’t be much drama on that front, however, as Robinson eclipsed O’Neal by the third quarter. The Admiral ended the evening with a career-high 71 points, going 26 of 41 from the floor in a 112–97 victory.
Magic moves to center
With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out of the lineup in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Magic Johnson stepped in at the center spot as a rookie, a far cry from running the Showtime Lakers at point guard.
But the transition was no tall task for Johnson, who went for 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in a 123–107 victory over the 76ers. Magic would have many more Finals moments following his rookie year, winning four more championships in Los Angeles.
Hakeem’s heroics fall short
Not even Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake could save the Rockets in Game 6 of the 1987 Western Conference Semifinals. Olajuwon spun his way to 49 points and 25 rebounds while logging 53 minutes, but a Dale Ellis putback with 50 seconds remaining gave Seattle a 128–125 victory. The SuperSonics wouldn’t be around for long, though. They were swept by Johnson and the Lakers in the Conference Finals.
Wilt pulls down 55 boards
If we’re being completely honest, this list could really be the 10 best performances by Wilt Chamberlain. The Big Dipper holds four of the five top scoring games in NBA history, joined in the top five only by Kobe Bryant’s 81 points in 2006.
Chamberlain eclipsed Russell’s previous mark of 51 rebounds in one game with an astounding performance in November 1960, grabbing 55 boards alongside 34 points. The only problem? Chamberlain's Warriors lost to Russell’s Celtics, falling 132–129.
Shaq’s unconventional triple double
Russell Westbrook may be the current king of triple doubles, but he’s got nothing on Shaq’s stat line from Nov. 20, 1993. The second-year center took over a matchup with the Nets, notching a rare triple double. O’Neal went for 24 points, 28 rebounds and 15 blocks in a 87–85 victory.
Only 23 players in NBA history have garnered a triple double with points, rebounds and blocks, most recently the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside on Feb. 5. Both Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo have accomplished the feat a record 10 times.
Dirk sets the tone
Dirk Nowitzki’s run to the 2011 NBA title is most remembered for his clutch play against Miami's Big 3 in the Finals, but his best performance came the series before, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Nowitzki ignited a sold-out crowd in Dallas and lit up the Thunder to the tune of 48 points in one of the most efficient performances of all-time. He took just 15 shot attempts on the day, going 12 of 15 from the field. Add in a 24–24 effort from the foul line, and not even 40 points from Kevin Durant could derail the Mavericks. They went on to win the series in five games before pulling off one of the greatest upsets in Finals history, taking just six contests to take down LeBron James and the Heat.
AD torches Detroit
A sleepy Sunday crowd in Detroit bore witness to an unstoppable scoring display by Anthony Davis on Feb. 21, 2016. The Brow rained an array of midrange jumpers on the Pistons, torching them for 59 points and 20 rebounds. Davis went 24 of 34 from the field, and became the second-youngest player in league history to record a 50–20 stat line.
Barkley erupts in series finale
Game 7 of the 1993 Western Conference pitted two of the game’s most voracious rebounders against one another, as Charles Barkley’s Suns took on Shawn Kemp and the Seattle SuperSonics.
It had been a banner year for Sir Charles prior to the battle. He was a member of the 1992 Dream Team in the summer, and he won the league’s MVP, snatching the trophy from back-to-back winner Michael Jordan. And in Game 7, Barkley put an exclamation mark on his historic season.
The "Round Mound of Rebound" put the Suns on his back in front of a raucous crowd at US Airways Arena, bursting for 44 points and 24 rebounds. Barkley procured 10 of those boards on the offensive glass, sending the Suns to their first NBA Finals since 1976. He continued his heroics in the Finals, averaging 27 points and 13 rebounds per game. But the effort wasn’t enough. Phoenix ultimately fell to Jordan’s Bulls in six games.
Russell seals the NBA Finals
The NBA’s ultimate champion came to play when it mattered most in Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals. Facing off against the Lakers in the Boston Garden, Russell got the best of Elgin Baylor securing a Finals record 40 rebounds to go with 30 points in a 110–107 win. The performance gave Boston its fourth consecutive NBA title, but the Celtics' dominance was far from over. They went on to win six of the next seven league championships.