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    Local and State News...

    In a surprise appearance, Shaq has a ball inspiring neighborhood kids to dream big

    January 27, 2016
    By: Jack Strickland

    Shaquille O’Neal stole the show in Gainesville, Florida last weekend. He rolled into town to support the Gainesville Police Department and to inspire and support kids in a disadvantaged neighborhood.

    The heartwarming story began last week when an irate citizen called in a complaint to GPD about neighborhood kids nosily playing basketball in the street. Officer Bobby White responded to the call. He pulled up to the “crime scene” with his dash-cam recording the entire incident.

    The offending kids scattered when they saw the cop car approaching. One lone kid remained behind to take the heat. Officer White advised the kid that he had been dispatched to deal with a complaint about a loud basketball game that had been in progress in the street. He asked for the ball and started shooting baskets, frequently passing off to the kid, who remained behind, for him to shoot, too.

    Other kids returned and joined in the shooting. The dash-cam recorded Officer White and the kids enjoying a spirited shoot around. The kids were good. Playing basketball on that street court is about the only recreation available to them. They get lots of practice. Officer White advised them to try to hold the noise down. He acknowledged that the kids had whipped him. As he was leaving the told them he would be back with back up in a few days for a rematch.

    The GPD posted the dash-cam video on social media with the statement, “This is how we handle it when we get complaints about kids being kids.” The video went viral on social media.

    Shaquille O’Neal is a member of the Doral, Florida police department. The Doral police chief saw the video. He borought it to Shaq’s attention. Shaq wanted to help. And he wanted to meet Officer Bobby White. He drove to Gainesville and arranged to meet Officer White and his colleagues. White and other police officers were called in early for their shift. Shaq walked into the squad meeting on cue and saluted Officer White.  He congratulated him on how he had handled the noise complaint.

    He told White, “I saw the video and heard you tell the kids you would be back for another game and you were going to bring back up. I am here to be your back up. Let’s roll out there and play some basketball.”

    Twenty or more police officers and support staff joined them in the ride to meet the kids. Officer White led the motorcade with Shaq driving his vehicle directly behind White’s car. Shaq remained out of sight in his truck as Officer White walked up to the kids and told them he was back to play some more basketball. He remind them he had promised to bring back up when he returned. Pointing to the police officers who were standing in the background, He said, “I brought some big guys.”

    On cue, Shaq got out of his truck, removed his outer garment, and ambled toward the court. He was immediately recognized and cheered by the kids. One excited kid could be heard exclaiming, “God Damn!” Shaq high-fived and hugged the kids. He said, “Let’s play some basketball.”

    They enjoyed a spirited game. It was Shaq and uniformed police officers against the neighborhood kids. The kids are good. They had the home court advantage. No one kept score but it seemed clear that the kids won by a comfortable margin.

    At game’s end Shaq lined up the kids to shoot free throws. He promised to give every kid a hundred dollars if they could make one of two shots. Every kid scored and collected.

    Shaq huddled up with the kids with his massive arms encircling them and holding them close. He gave them an inspirational pep talk. He told them he grew up in a neighborhood just like theirs. He said they could become anything they wanted to be and required them to repeat his words after him.

    He urged them to be a leader, not a follower, to always honor their mother and father and respect their teachers and community leaders. And, he told them to never again to accept money from strangers. The kids seemed spell bound.

    Shaq said his goodbyes, got in his truck, headed for the interstate and the drive back home. Those kids, the police officers, and Gainesville may never be the same.

    A series of videos documenting the event have been posted on social media. They have gone viral. One has reportedly been seen by 15 million viewers and counting. Officer White has been dubbed “the basketball cop” and is a national hero.

    The Gainesville Police Department posted a tongue-in-cheek video thanking the old grouch who called in the complaint about noisy kids playing in the street. They said that without that complaint none of the positive developments would have happened.

    Shaquille O’Neal has been called “Big Diesel” because of his powerful big size. When he starred for LSU he came to Gainesville frequently and led the Tigers when they played the Florida Gators. He was always larger than life and was always a showstopper. He has never stood taller than when he stooped to hug, encourage, and inspire those disadvantaged kids in Gainesville last weekend.