(Steve Kerr, Shaq, and Mike D'Antoni. Photo by Ross D. Franklin, AP Photos)
2/06/1995 - Maxwell gets mad with a fan
In a 120-82 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets guard Vernon Maxwell is ejected for running 12 rows into the stands and punching a fan. Maxwell, or "Mad Max" as people called him, claimed that the fan in question -- Steve George -- had taunted him with racial insults and jokes about his stillborn child. "When he began involving my daughter Amber in his obscene, abusive and racial remarks I decided I'd had enough and I rushed into the stands," Maxwell said in a statement.
It was the first major incident involving an NBA player and a fan. Maxwell received a 10-game suspension and a $20,000 fine. George denied making any such statements and filed a suit against Maxwell and the Rockets. "I would like to have an apology from Vernon Maxwell," George said. "I think it's wrong for him to turn this around to where I am no longer the victim and he's making himself out to be the victim. He chose to come up and do what he did and he's chosen to say to the press things that are totally untrue."
A year later, the fan reached a five-figure out-of-court settlement with Maxwell. 1995 was not a good year for Vernon, who was later given a permanent leave of absence by the Houston Rockets. Maxwell had voiced displeasure since he lost his starting job to Clyde Drexler, who the Rockets had recently acquired from Portland. Max was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers that September.
2/06/2008 - Shaq traded to the desert
Just two seasons after winning the title, the Miami Heat had become the worst team in the NBA. The nucleus of role players that had contributed to the their 2006 championship (Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, Antoine Walker, James Posey, and Jason Kapono) were all gone. Dwyane Wade was coming off of surgery and was not himself, while Shaquille O'Neal appeared to be aging rapidly.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns had the best record in the Western Conference, but were by no means the prohibitive favorite. The L.A. Lakers, who the Suns had already lost to twice in the regular season, had just made a trade to acquire Pau Gasol for practically nothing. The deal pleased Kobe Bryant so much that he was quoted as saying, "There is a god, there is a god."
With the Lakers now the team to beat out west, rookie GM Steve Kerr decided to role the dice. The Suns traded Shawn Marion, who had expressed that he wanted to leave anyway, and Marcus Banks to Miami for Shaq and his two-year, $40 million contract. "If it works, I'm a genius," Kerr said lightly. "If it doesn't, I'm a moron, I guess."
The reaction in Arizona was very mixed. If a healthy, vibrant Shaq was paired with Amare Stoudemire in the front court, the Suns would be damn near impossible to beat. But O'Neal was a month shy of turning 36 and was putting up the worst numbers of his career. His points per game had dropped from 22.9 in 2005 to 20 the following year, to 17, and now 14. The Suns were the fastest and highest scoring team in the NBA; Shaq was old and slow. It just didn't add up.
It would take two weeks for Shaq to officially get on the court, and when he did, the first team he played against was none other than the Lakers -- Shaq's old team. Needless to say, it was a big deal.
(Shaq was introduced to the Suns crowd during the game. Photo by Domenic Centofanti, Getty Images)
2/06/2008 - Peja three wins regular season thriller
Shaquille O'Neal flew in to Phoenix the day the Suns pulled the trigger to acquire him. He was even introduced at one point to the home audience, where he took the time to display his four championship rings.
Sitting in his box suite, O'Neal got a taste what playing for the Suns would be like. The Suns and New Orleans Hornets put on a hell of a show, even stealing the spotlight away from him; each team seemed to hit every big shot when they needed to. Steve Nash scored 34 points and had 12 assists, the Hornets' Chris Paul outdid him with 42 points and nine assists.
(Peja launches the final shot. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein, Getty Images)
With 3.2 seconds remaining in double overtime, the score was tied at 130. Phoenix' Leandro Barbosa had just hit a game-tying three-pointer, one of several huge shots he knocked down. But the hero of the game was Peja Stojakovic. Bobby Jackson threw it in to him on the Hornets' final possession of the game, and the former All-Star did not disappoint. Stojakovic knocked in the game-winner over the outstretched arms of Amare Stoudemire, giving the Hornets 132-130 victory and ruining Shaq's coronation with the Phoenix Suns.