Back in 2016, I had the pleasure of doing an interview with basketball legend and trash-talking GOD Gary Payton. Going into it, I had one burning question I’ve been dying to ask him or Shawn Kemp for over two decades: Did George Karl order a “Shut Down” on Shaquille O’Neal during the 1994 NBA All-Star game aka the “Why is BJ Armstrong Starting” game.
The 94 All-Star game took place during Shaq’s second season. With Michael Jordan hitting baseballs in Birmingham, Shaq was now the most popular and marketable player in the league. They won’t admit it, but a lot of the league’s best big men (when Big Men ruled the earth) and veterans didn’t like the idea of the rapping/acting/backboard-breaking youngster taking their shine. And for 26 minutes, the Western team — with Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shawn Kemp and Karl Malone — made Shaq’s life hell during a game which is supposed to be a fun one to play in. With double and triple-teams, Shaq missed 10 of his 12 shots and went to the free throw line a game-high 11 times.
“We (officials) were talking about it halftime…The West guys weren’t going to let Shaq go to the hole, which I didn’t understand in an All-Star game. Why not let the guy do what he does.” Said NBA ref Jake O’Donnell after the game.
One of Shaq’s two made field goals was a vicious frustration dunk on Hakeem that left The Dream on his knees.
“He really didn’t do a freeze or something on Shaq.” Said a laughing Payton, when I asked him about George Karl ordering a shut down on Shaq. “It started as a joke. Shaq was talking big stuff and Coach was like, ‘alright Gary, we going to make sure he understands this is how it is.’ It wasn’t really like that. Then (the Sonics) had to play them right after the All-Star game.”
I interrupted, “Y’all got murdered.”
“Yeah, we got killed,” Payton replied. “Shaq took it personally and he got busy on that day. But that’s how it goes. It was a joke at first and then Shaq took it a little personal and that was it. But that’s how it was back then. If a coach didn’t want to play you, you would go back at their team.”
Shaq finished with 38 points (16-19 FG), 20 rebounds and 5 blocks as the Magic beat the Sonics 124-93 (on the same day Shaq’s film Blue Chips came out in theaters).
I then brought up how after the payback game, a local Orlando reporter was drilling Karl about All-Star weekend. With his eyes fluttering like my wife when she’s pissed at me, Karl told the reporter he thought he was being an asshole. Then when the media session was done, the assistant coach confronted the reporter and acted as if he was about to kick his ass.
Since I was a VHS head in the 90s, I actually have all of this evidence on video. Here’s a recap of the game with the hilarious postgame confrontation. My apologies for the static but this was recorded on an EP setting and when you constantly go back and forth to a part on a VHS tape, it causes static. And that is why most VHS copies of Fast Times At Ridgemont High from Blockbuster Video would get jumpy before the Phoebe Cates gets out of the pool scene.
A few years later, Shaq and Karl got into a pretty amusing beef through the media.
Here are some of the best quotes by both of them after the Sonics beat the Lakers in GM1 of the 1998 Western Conference Semi-Finals and Karl commented about Shaq getting away with throwing elbows and traveling.
“I don’t understand how a person cries before a series even started
“He looks like a woman coach sometimes. I guess he’s just trying to get into certain people’s heads, but it won’t work with me
“Like a woman who coaches and cries all the time. He can’t get in my head. He’s a crybaby.”
“There’s some great women coaches in this game. I’m thinking about wearing an apron tomorrow night.
“But I’m not going to play amateur psychologist. I’m sure you all (reporters) do that very well.”
“I ate too many Frosted Flakes. I don’t remember what I said last night.”
And here’s what Gary Payton had to say about it.
“I don’t know what’s going on with that. That’s their thing.”
The Lakers went on to win the series in five games; Shaq averaged 30.6 points and 9.6 rebounds in the series.
Playoff quotes from CBS News