Even prior to joining the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaquille O’Neal had already emerged as a force to be reckoned with throughout the league during the 1990’s.
Of course, the move to Los Angeles thrust him into the midst of competing in a juggernaut Western Conference. Among the notable teams to reign supreme during that time was the Utah Jazz, led by John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Despite the Jazz being one of the best teams in the West at the time, O’Neal had managed to give them fits with his utter dominance in the paint. That was despite Utah being able to counter his size and strength with Greg Ostertag, who was selected in the first round of the 1995 NBA Draft.
Malone recalled O’Neal providing Ostertag with quite the welcome to the NBA and thus prompting a rule change for pregame warmups, via Rob Perez of The Action Network:
“We had a guy that we drafted out of Kansas. We had a young man on [O’Neal’s] weight and we thought we had what we needed. Until we met Shaq and the Lakers in the preseason game in the old Forum. He slapped the man’s contacts out. He [expletive] up Greg Ostertag for the rest of his life. People don’t know this. This is why the NBA changed that you cannot get on the floor (for shootaround) until the other team left.
Malone added that he encouraged Ostertag to hold his ground after the feud stemmed from the trash talk during Utah’s 4-0 sweep of Los Angeles in the Western Conference Finals a year earlier:
“We had played the Lakers the year before (in the playoffs) and Ostertag started yaking. Lo and behold the NBA scheduled us to play the Lakers in one of our first preseason games. So Shaq told me earlier, ‘If I see that [expletive] I’m going to slap the [expletive] out of him.’ And he is not lying. We’re waiting on[(Ostertag] to come out for the preseason, on the shootaround, and Shaq walked right to him, ‘Man, I told you to stop talking that [expletive].’
“Before we could even respond, Ostertag is on the ground looking for his contact. Just ruined him for the rest of our career. … Before this preseason game started I told [Ostertag], ‘I’ll pay your fine. You’ve got to state your allegiance. You’ve got to go hit him or something.’”
Malone’s story just goes to show that not only was O’Neal physically equipped to deal out serious punishment, he also carried the same mental edge that helped fuel his competitive fire. Being the same size was simply not enough to contain all that he was bringing to the paint down low.
Although Ostertag was able to reap the benefits of Utah’s short-term success against Los Angeles, it would not be long before O’Neal would turn the tables. Regardless, he would still go on to enjoy an 11-year career without ever playing for a losing team.
Meanwhile, O’Neal would add another victim to the list of big men that were supposed to shut him down during his illustrious career.