The Big Appreciation: A Tribute to Shaquille O’Neal

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Shaq and I chatting it up in Boston….

June 1st 2011 marked the end of one of the most remarkable NBA careers of all time. After nineteen successful, exciting, and unforgettable years Shaquille O’Neal chose the aforementioned date to announce his retirement from professional basketball. For nearly two decades Shaq has given NBA fans plenty to cheer about on and off the court. With four NBA championships, three Finals MVPs, and fifteen All-Star Game appearances, Shaq has put together an impressive hall-of-fame caliber resume. Even more impressive than his NBA accomplishments are his actions off the court, which include donating millions of dollars and much of his free time to charity. Shaq was a truly inspirational figure both on and off the court, and if any pro athlete ever deserved a meaningful tribute it is him.

Shaq has been my favorite player since I began watching basketball over a decade ago. I remember being the only kid in Boston who wore Lakers gear because of Shaq. He was just that dominant. He was one of three truly unstoppable forces in NBA history, with the others being Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. Night in and night out he dominated both ends of the floor. He threw down thunderous dunks, and swatted shots into the stands. He set up his teammates with amazing passes, and he handled the ball a little bit. He was even a streaky free throw shooter (he once shot 68% from the line in a 16 game stretch) when he concentrated. He led three different franchises (Magic,Lakers,Heat) to an NBA Finals appearance, and won three Finals MVPs. He achieved this success by utilizing his unique physical abilities and his desire for success.

Shaq’s physical abilities are not his only unique attribute. He also has a unique personality which many consider to be his most valuable asset. He has an uncanny ability to make people feel welcome around him. Despite being seven feet tall and over three hundred pounds he maintains a gentle, playful demeanor. He loves to laugh and joke, and he is great with children. He is also a very polite, and generous person. His charisma and sense of humor will carry him a long way not only with his fans, but also with his audience as he transitions into his new broadcasting career.

Shaq is my favorite basketball player, and he is one of my favorite people as well. The emphasis of this article is on his generosity because I have witnessed it firsthand. I have personally met Shaq…twice! Both times were truly awesome, and they were two of the best days of my life.

I first met Shaq on a chilly November night in 2010. He made an appearance at the Roxbury Boys and Girls Club for a charity event called Shaqsgiving. Shaqsgiving was a public event during which Shaq personally handed out turkeys in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday. That night I worked my usual shift in the kitchen, and I missed a lot of the event. By the time my shift had ended, the noise from the crowd had died down and people began to leave. I thought I had missed my opportunity to meet Shaq. Thankfully I was wrong! After giving out all the turkeys, Shaq and his fiancée Hoopz (from “Flavor of Love”) stayed even longer than they were scheduled to, just to meet with my Keystone Club. They signed autographs, posed for pictures, and conversated with each and everyone of us. My mom caught me and Shaq in the middle of our conversation and snapped the picture above this post. I was so excited that I rushed home and declared that night the “best night of my life” on my Facebook status. Little did I know that nearly a month later, Shaq would find a way to top that.

On December 7th 2010 (I remember this because it was the day before my birthday) I crammed my six foot five inch frame onto a yellow school bus jam packed with a mix of kids and teenagers. We drove thirty minutes from our beloved Boys and Girls Club to an Italian restaurant called Buca Di Beppo. We anxiously climbed off the bus and clambered into the restaurant. The first thing we saw was three big-screen televisions fully equipped with Nintendo Wiis, and the “Michael Jackson Experience” game. We began to play the game, and after a while Shaq and Hoopz arrived. Shaq stepped right in, put on a red “Santa Claus” style hat and began playing, dancing, and singing with us. It was both hilarious and extremely cool at the same time. Next, we all enjoyed a chicken parmesian dinner and giant cookies for dessert courtesy of Shaq. The food was delicious! After dinner Shaq and Hoopz lined all of us up and gave everyone Christmas presents. All kinds of gifts were given…toys, videogames, remote control cars, you name it! Personally I received a Nintendo Wii. Also as each kid received their present, Shaq and Hoopz laughed, joked, and posed for pictures with us. It was a really great time that I will remember for the rest of my life

I admire Shaq both as a basketball player and as a person. On the court he recognized his God-given talents and used them to achieve success and build wealth. Off the court he used his wealth and personality to make people happy. I am proud that I got a chance to meet him. He is an awesome role model, and I can only hope that one day I will be able to touch a fraction of the number of lives he has touched. Although his NBA career is over, we have not heard from Shaq for the last time. I am looking forward to watching him on television next year, and I am sure he will continue his philanthropic behavior. Although I will miss watching him play basketball, I am happy that he has retired and wish him nothing but the best. Go on and enjoy retirement Big Fella…you’ve earned it!

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P.S: Wanna see the clip of Shaq dancing to Thriller with us? Click Here! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEoJxI1epu8

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