In the 2006 NBA Playoffs, the Phoenix Suns faced off against the Utah Jazz. The Suns were up 3-2 in the series and had a chance to close out the game with a win. However, due to poor defense by Greg Ostertag, Shaquille O’Neal was able to score on him and take control of the game for Phoenix.
Speaking trash to a guy of Shaquille O’Neal’s height does not seem to be a smart decision. It’s much more doubtful for a young center in his second NBA season. Despite this, Greg Ostertag gave The Diesel a go.
In the late 1990s, Ostertag and the Jazz had Shaq and the Los Angeles Lakers’ number. However, the Dallas native’s attempts to chat with O’Neal were met with emasculation.
During the 1997 Western Conference playoffs, Greg Ostertag chastised Shaquille O’Neal.
When Greg Ostertag and the Utah Jazz faced Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers in the 1997 Western Conference playoffs, he was still a rookie.
Ostertag was chosen with the 28th overall selection in the 1995 NBA Draft by the Jazz. In his first season, he appeared in 57 games before establishing himself as the center of the offense in his second season, starting 70 of his 77 outings. Despite the additional beginning experience, Ostertag was about to take on a very new task in Shaq.
In 1996-97, O’Neal was in his first season with the Lakers. In his first season with the Purple and Gold, he averaged 26.2 points, 12.5 points, 3.1 assists, and 2.9 blocks per game, but injuries restricted him to only 51 games.
In the first round, a healthy Shaq crushed the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 33.0 points and leading the Lakers to a four-game series win. Against the Jazz, he wasn’t nearly as successful. Ostertag and his teammates limited him to 22.0 points on sub 50% shooting from the field. Ostertag was totally shut out of the game by O’Neal, but the Utah center did enough to keep his statistics down.
Ostertag, too, was pleased with himself. Throughout the series, he had words for O’Neal as the Jazz cruised to a four-game victory and a trip to the NBA Finals. Ostertag’s nine blocks in Game 5 exemplified the trash-talking.
Ostergag’s insults were not forgotten by Superman. The next preseason, he aggressively sought him out.
Before a 1997 preseason game, Shaq smacked Ostertag.
Greg Ostertag (R) of the Utah Jazz fouled Shaquille O’Neal (L) of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first quarter on April 17, 1999 in Salt Lake City, Utah | Brett Crandall/AFP via Getty Images
Karl Malone clearly recalls The Diesel’s premeditated attack on Tag.
During a “90s Reunion” Zoom with Ahmad Rashad in 2020, the former Jazz player recounted the tale of Shaquille O’Neal slapping Ostertag while speaking. Shaq informed Malone and others that he didn’t like Ostertag’s badmouthing and that he would confront him at shootaround, according to Malone (h/t Rob Perez via Twitter).
According to Malone, O’Neal approached Ostertag and smacked him so hard that Tag’s lenses flew out of his eyes and into the floor following a short altercation. The event hit the front page of the newspaper. According to Malone, it also “f***ed up Greg Ostertag for the rest of his life.” John Stockton, a former Jazz point guard, verified the report.
Shortly after, the NBA prohibited both teams from sharing the court for shootarounds. Ostertag, on the other hand, avoided speaking to the media whenever Shaq and the Lakers visited town, especially when the two teams met in the Western Conference Finals later that year.
Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers ultimately surpassed Ostertag and the Jazz as the Western Conference’s dominant force.
In 1998, Utah defeated Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers for the second time, sweeping them in the Western Conference Finals. But it wouldn’t be long until the West was controlled by the Purple and Gold.
Between 2000 and 2004, the Lakers won the Western Conference four out of five years, including a record three-peat at the turn of the century. O’Neal was the MVP of the league and three times in the Finals during that stretch.
Ostertag, on the other hand, spent 11 years in the NBA. But he wasn’t quite the Shaq foil he first seemed to be, possibly because O’Neal smacked him in the face with a huge bear paw.
Basketball Reference provided the statistics.
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