Shaq shares hoops clinic with Buckley children

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Scott McNabb
  • 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
More than 265 children from Buckley Air Force Base had more than just a basketball clinic in common with a 7-foot-1-inch, 325-pound four-time National Basketball Association champion Jan. 14 here.

Just like Shaquille O'Neal was, the hopeful hoopsters are military family members.

Children ages 6 to 16 flocked to the Buckley Fitness Center to attend the clinic and meet "Shaq."

The Phoenix Suns all-star center talked about how he grew up just like them. He recalled moving from base to base, working at the commissary and cutting grass for extra cash.

Mr. O'Neal gave a special thank you to servicemembers, then told the children how important it is to overcome negative comments from people who tell them they can't succeed.

"People said, 'You're no good. You're not going to make it anywhere because your dad's in the Army,'" he said.

Mr. O'Neal remained positive and kept working: a message he pounded down like a break-away slam dunk.

"You can be anything you want to be," he said. "You have even more opportunities here than I had coming up. You've got this nice fitness center and great facilities."

The hulking player, who grew up playing in Army gymnasiums, showed his softer side when he took individual questions from the children.

When Mr. O'Neal said he wears a size 22 shoe, the buzz lasted almost as long as the laughter after he answered a question about how long kids should practice.

"Practice until the street lamps come on," he said reminiscing about getting home before his mom got mad.

Mr. O'Neal accepted one girl's challenge to a free-throw competition on an 8-foot hoop. He secured the win by swatting away her attempts to the delight of the onlookers.

The basketball clinic resumed while Mr. O'Neal took two short interviews. When he finished, he met the players at center court to say goodbye. Mr. O'Neal led a, "One, two, three Buckley," chant and the children didn't let him down. They got louder and more excited each round.

Some of the clinic attendees talked about what it was like to meet their hero after the big man left.

One boy was still recovering from the shock of seeing Mr. O'Neal appear out of nowhere.

"When I saw him come through the smoke, my adrenaline was pumping so much that I almost passed out," he said. "When I grow up, I'm going to play for the San Antonio Spurs."

A girl there said Mr. O'Neal's messages of hope made her feel like she can really do anything she wants to do with her life. She said she appreciated him visiting her and the other children.

Col. Wayne McGee, the 460th Space Wing commander, called the visit a huge success.

"It was great and we had a huge turnout," he said. "Having been a dependent, it's great for all the other kids to see him and hear what it was like for him growing up. It means a lot for the kids, and I think it's very big of him for him to stop by the base and care about us and our kids."

It was the number of children who attended that put a smile on Tom Cox's face.

Mr. Cox, the Buckley AFB youth programs manager, arrived in August and has been looking for an event just like the all-star visit to give his program a boost.

"My No. 1 goal is to build a world-class youth program here," Mr. Cox said. "I've been running programs since I got here in August, and I haven't had more than 20 kids show up, so this just shows me that there is a lot of interest here. There are a lot of kids on base, so I'm extremely excited about going out and building from this and getting the kids more activities to do throughout the year. This was an amazing event and I think Buckley benefitted from it. I know the youth programs here at Buckley benefitted from it."

The visit was filmed and portions aired during a free "Kids' Inaugural" concert shown in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, which paid tribute to military families. The "Kids' Inaugural: We are the future," aired on the Disney Channel as well as on Disney Radio.

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