One & Done: 20 years ago, Shaq made his only 3-pointer
In the world of sports, athletes often dedicate their entire lives to reaching the pinnacle of their profession, but for many, life at the top can be short-lived. Sometimes all a player gets to experience at the highest level is one minute on the court, one trip to the plate, one shot on goal or one checkered flag, but more often than not, that fleeting moment in the spotlight is a story all its own. This is One & Done, a FOX Sports series profiling athletes, their paths to success and the stories behind some of sports’ most ephemeral brushes with glory.
Shaquille O’Neal was known for a lot of things during his playing days, but long-distance shooting was not one of them. In fact, the legendary big man had more broken backboards than he had made 3-point shots during his 19-year NBA career.
Still, as abysmal as O’Neal was from beyond the arc, he somehow managed to make one shot from downtown, his only career 3 coming 20 years ago Feb. 16 in a 121-91 Orlando Magic win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Fresh off an appearance in the 1995 NBA Finals, the Magic were one of the league’s premier teams at the time thanks in large part to the former rookie of the year and scoring champ O’Neal, who averaged 26.6 points, 11.0 boards and 2.1 blocks per game in his last season in Orlando. The Bucks, meanwhile, were moving the opposite direction in their fourth and final miserable season under coach Mike Dunleavy.
The disparity between the clubs showed in the first quarter of the game, as the Magic ran out to a 40-25 lead. The 40 points were the most in a quarter for Orlando the entire 1995-96 season — the team’s 60.3 percent shooting that night also represented a season-high — but the team would have never hit that magic number had it not been for Shaq’s buzzer-beater to end the frame.
The bank shot 3-pointer, off a nearly full-court pass from reserve forward Joe Wolf, gave O’Neal 19 points for the first quarter alone and seemed to send the Bucks reeling. Milwaukee came into Orlando winners of four of six games but went 6-23 down the stretch after the loss to the Magic.
"That was like pouring salt on an already open wound," Milwaukee center Vin Baker told the Orlando Sentinel after the game. "And we never got back into it."
And though it’s hard to blame a collapse of that magnitude on one fluke 3-pointer, allowing a Shaq trey is the type of blow that might convince any team that it’s doomed.
That was like pouring salt on an already open wound.
"I thought the world was going to fall," Dunleavy added of the shot. "(I was) waiting for the roof to come down."
O’Neal could not be reached for this story, but at the time — and in classic Shaq style — he made it sound like he knew the off-balance heave was going in from the moment it left his massive hand.
"You guys are jealous because I’m shooting 1,000 percent behind the 3-point line," O’Neal told The Associated Press after the victory, which tied an NBA record for consecutive home wins to start a season at 27.
(Orlando’s run eventually ended after 33 games, and the Magic finished the year 37-4 at the old Orlando Arena; however, the Chicago Bulls, that same year, won their first 37 at home, finished 39-2 at the United Center and eventually swept the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals.)
"(Coach) Brian Hill called the play," O’Neal added of the bucket. "I got it. I shot it and I hit it. I called glass. You just didn’t hear it."
I called glass. You just didn’t hear it.
Unfortunately, Shaq’s touch from deep against the Bucks wasn’t exactly the start of a trend.
During his career, O’Neal attempted 22 regular-season 3-pointers with the lone make. (Twenty of them came in his first 10 seasons, so Phil Jackson must have talked some sense into him by 2002.) O’Neal never attempted a 3-pointer in the playoffs, but he was also known to hoist an occasional 3 in the All-Star Game, going 0-for-2.
Those struggles didn’t stop O’Neal from working on his range, however. The former coach Hill, now a FOX Sports Florida broadcaster, said Wednesday that O’Neal was always known to put up a few shots from 3 at the end of practice, a tradition he continued throughout his career.
"Dennis Scott was his best friend on the team, so they would always fool around shooting 3s," Hill said. "Or sometimes at the end of a shootaround or practice you’d have a contest just for fun making shots from halfcourt putting guys on teams and competing."
As for how Shaq performed in those? Suffice it to say it’s not a shock he made only the one when they actually counted.
"I wouldn’t call him a good 3-point shooter, let’s put it that way," Hill said. "He could get the ball up there on the rim, but he wasn’t going to make too many of them."
PREVIOUS ONE & DONES
May 5: Mario Andretti
May 12: Dean Morton
May 19: Ross Browner
May 26: Dave Salvian
June 2: Mine That Bird
June 9: Kerwin Bell
June 16: Michael Campbell
June 23: Tyson Wheeler
June 30: Roe Skidmore
July 7: Steven Hill
July 14: LaMarr Hoyt
July 21: Bernard Quarles
July 28: Matt Tupman
August 4: Kevin Melillo
August 11: Roy Gleason
August 18: Cory Aldridge
August 25: Tom Brown
September 1: Tony Cloninger
September 8: Mike Pantazis
September 15: Wilbur Wood
September 22: Doug Clarey
September 29: Danny Young
October 6: Chad Wiseman
October 13: David Matranga
October 20: Brad Fast
October 27: Zenyatta
November 3: Ohio Northern
November 10: Dave Scholz
November 17: Matt Walsh
November 24: Clint Longley
December 1: Steve O’Neal
December 8: 1985 Miami Dolphins
December 15: 1998 New York Giants
December 22: Ed Podolak
December 29: Scott Skiles
January 5: Bram Kohlhausen
January 12: 1968 New York Jets
January 19: Ricky Proehl
January 26: Mike Boryla
February 2: John Kasay
February 9: Julius Erving
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