15 years ago today, Shaq Daddy brought down the basket.
Believe it or not, it was 15 years ago Thursday that Shaq Daddy – he hadn’t adopted the Diesel or Big Aristotle nicknames yet – made his first NBA appearance in Phoenix in front of a national television audience.
Like most fans, I was fired up for the Sunday afternoon game, caught up in the marquee magic of the big kid with the bigger smile from LSU. Just a 20-year-old rookie myself at the time (I had just started working at the Suns Team Shop at Metrocenter), I couldn’t wait to see the Blue Chipper go head to head with Sir Charles and Co.
I actually taped the NBC broadcast, and after some extensive digging through my closets around 1 AM last night, I located that old Kodak VHS “High Quality” tape, which also has the 1993 All-Star Game on it, I might add.
If you saw the game, you know the one I’m referring to. Less than three minutes into the game, Shaq went up for a rebound and dunk and… well, I should probably let the guys who were actually involved tell you the story:
“I was on the court at the time,” says then-Suns center/current Suns VP of Player Programs Mark West. “Anthony Bowie was going to the basket, and I went over to help on defense. Shaq just came from behind me, and he dunks the ball, and all of a sudden the basket just collapsed.”
Suns broadcaster Tom Chambers, an All-Star forward at the time, just laughs when remembering the surprising result of Shaq’s slam.
“It was like this big dinosaur-looking thing going down, just in slow motion,” says TC. “It wasn’t like it happened real quick. We all just stood back and watched this thing go down. It was incredible.”
Suns VP of Facility Management Alvan Adams had been retired for five years at the time, but probably felt as though he was the one who had been dunked on.
“I was at the center of it, because the referees knew that I was involved with the facility,” he says. “I was the sporting event coordinator at the time. I wasn’t in charge of the facility yet, although I was the one who bought the goals. I had inspected them and bought them.
“We were the first team in the league and the only ones at the time to have these new goals, which sat further back from the baseline… Matt Winick from the league was at the game. I had talked to him about buying these goals before the season started, and he had said, ‘I don’t know; it’s a new goal.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve tested them. I’ve had Mark West dunk on them, Jeff Hornacek shoot a three, I talked to the Trail Blazers, who had training camp on it.’ I liked them because of the safety factor of the fact that it sat further back from the court. If a guy runs out and gets creamed, he doesn’t hit the vertical padding as quickly. Well, I saw him at halftime, and he jus said, ‘Alvan!’ and shook his head.”
So what exactly did happen? I’ve wondered myself for 15 years now.
“There was an angled, telescoping, height-adjusting rod on the unit and one of the two weld points broke on that,” Adams explains. “So that rod just flopped, and the whole thing just quietly sat back in its stored position, kind of like a big ol’ elephant.”
Fortunately for Adams and the NBA, the Suns just happened to have a spare backboard unit in storage. Getting it through the tunnel and out onto the court, however, wasn’t exactly an easy or quick task.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘That took like two hours to replace,’” laughs Adams. “I think the actual time was around 30 minutes, but every 30-second delay in a game is like an eternity. It took a long time, although I’m sure it helped the food and beverage sales.”
Conspiracy theorists had a field day with the event, as you can imagine, and West admits he had his doubts in the heat of the TV spotlights.
“I was thinking was, ‘This must be staged, because Oliver (Miller) has dunked on that thing a thousand freaking times.’ It had never come down from his weight and force, and now all of a sudden, we just happen to be playing them on national TV and it just happens to come down. That may be a little shady?’”
Big Daddy – or Little Daddy compared to O’Neal – acknowledges now, of course, that it was just a freak accident, but Adams says he has heard them all over the years.
“Someone said that one of Shaq’s big sponsors must have come and undid the anchor holding it to the floor,” he says. “I just think it was not the greatest weld and it was a big strong guy who dunked on it. It just happened to be the most famous new guy in the league. Luckily nobody got hurt.
“Was it a disaster? Was it catastrophic? I say no. It was fantastic, fun publicity for the league. I mean, the first guy to kill a unit!”
The monster dunk was not Shaq’s last, you might remember. During a road trip to New Jersey just a few weeks later, the rookie phenom tore down another backboard, although not the entire unit this time. O’Neal’s new teammate, Amaré Stoudemire, never saw the collapse in Phoenix, but still remembers how the backboard almost fell on top of Shaq in Jersey.
“I was almost 10, so I was just really starting to love basketball and when I saw that,” he says of his childhood hero. “I thought it was amazing, man, because I’d never seen anybody tear a backboard down and then I saw Shaq do it. He was already being marketed as this huge guy, this huge beast, but a teddy bear. So to see this huge guy just rip down a backboard, I was pretty amazed.”
Me too, STAT. Me too.