Niagara Gazette — With hallowed college hoops programs thriving around here, plus March NCAA games held in Buffalo (featuring champ-to-be UConn, upstart Dayton and a winnowed ‘Cuse), will some new Shaq or Bird be located?
One thing in common concerning such phenoms: they generally endure numerous slings and arrows, both in early lives and careers. O’Neal, in particular (see his recent “Shaq Uncut”), has been anything but just a tall man; rather, an intelligent, courageous person who overcame a lot to get where he did. Starting in Newark of the ‘70s, he was tagged a clumsy Big Foot, and in a city full of poverty and violence could easily have followed the role model of drug dealers there. A kind mom and grandma, and rigidly military step-dad (nicknamed “Sarge”) helped place him on a better path.
Sarge’s toughness (including physical) remained constant, as Shaq learned via salutary moves to Georgia, Germany, and San Antonio both to toe the line and be himself. Believe it or not, he at first found basketball difficult, and dunking impossible! However, Sarge made him a fighter and he grew to love both.
As in “The Blind Side,” Shaq chose the right college offer of many (LSU), and Coach Dale Brown became another positive force there, orienting him toward the pros. Sure, he partied and rapped (and later did rap recordings); but avoidance of booze and drugs remained Shaq’s MO, and almost single-handedly, he made LSU basketball huge, rivaling other college stars like Angola’s Christian Laettner at Duke.
In the NBA draft lottery (May ‘92) Shaq was picked number one, and suddenly in Orlando, a river of money engulfed him, including via lucrative endorsements. He started buying Benzes, Bentleys, and custom-crafted Ferraris, and also procured for his parents and himself lavish new homes.