For almost 25 years, Shaquille O'Neal has garnered many aliases and accolades on his award tour through and beyond into his retirement from the NBA. Nicknames ranging from "The Deal," "The Diesel," "Superman," the self-proclaimed "Big Aristotle," and accomplishments such as NBA MVP. world champion, PhD, his retired Lakers jersey number, and Hall of Famer. Now you can add "diplomat" to his resume after his trip to Havana, Cuba representing the U.S. to further the government relations on the mend that was strained for 5 decades.
But Shaq's purpose was not to be sitting at an embassy with Raul Castro's constituents. Rather, it was to run a basketball clinic in Havana for Cuban youth. This program O'Neal was assisting is part of the U.S. State Department-sponsored trip to strengthen people-to-people exchanges with Cuban citizens.
Cuban youth who came to the clinic participated in layup drills, and Shaq helped coach scrimmages as onlookers and parents witnessed from the sidelines at the event.
O'Neal spoke about the purpose of the event to reporters:
"Baseball, soccer, basketball -- it's about sports, you know. We share a lot of things in common. We just want to come over here and extend our friendly hand and just start smoothing things out. It was great for (Obama) to reopen the door, regain a better relationship with this beautiful island."
One of the campers, Juan Navarrete, 13, described his inspiration from Shaq's presence at the clinic, "I would really like to become great, a great player." He continued, "Maybe I can become a great player like Shaquille O'Neal."