AP NEWS

Shaq Gives Gardner a Thrill

December 27, 2017 GMT

Staff report

Standing 7-foot-1, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal makes his presence known wherever he goes. But the former Boston Celtics center showed a group of local youngsters this summer that his heart is as big as his stature.

The 15-time NBA all-star made an appearance in Gardner on Aug. 5, dropping by Gardner High School to serve as guest speaker at the Rolle’s All-Star Basketball Clinic. The event was organized by O’Neal’s girlfriend, Gardner native Laticia Rolle -- a former college basketball star in her own right.

O’Neal’s visit to the area ranks at No. 6 among the Sentinel & Enterprise’s top 10 local sports stories of 2017.

“Shaquille is an inspiration to young people, and to be honest, I live with that man, and he’s a big kid himself,” Rolle said. “This was a walk in the park for him, he loves the kids, and would do this every day.”

Even the big man couldn’t steal the show, however. After talking to the more than 200 children in attendance about the importance of respecting their parents and authority figures, as well as pursuing their dreams, O’Neal made what seemed like a safe wager.

O’Neal asked 11-year-old Armani Perkins, of Brockton, to stand well behind the 3-point line. If Perkins could sink the long shot, O’Neal said, he would buy basketball shoes for every kid in the gym.

If Perkins felt any pressure in the big moment, he didn’t show it, calmly swishing the 3-pointer as the gym erupted in celebration, leaving the four-time NBA champ to shake his head in disbelief. Another happy memory on a day filled with fun for local youngsters.

“I just hope (the experience of this clinic) is something for them to keep going,” O’Neal said. “If it wasn’t for camps I wouldn’t have the dreams or aspirations to be the Shaq Man. I guarantee you that four or five of these kids will go on to big things in high school, and go on and play college ball.”

Before he left, O’Neal had one last bit of advice for the children in attendance.

“My message is always the same,” O’Neal said. “Listen to your parents, listen to your teachers and follow your dreams. It will never change.”

Check back tomorrow when we unveil the No. 5 entry in the Sentinel & Enterprise’s top 10 local sports stories of 2017.