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Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome

Posted by Charles P. Pierce  August 11, 2010 01:41 PM

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There is on my desk a picture of my daughter at the age of 3. She is hoisting with both hands an autographed shoe belonging to Shaquille O'Neal, who was then a young and very promising center with the Orlando Magic. I have been there for the whole ride. I have written about the lad in four different magazines -- three of which survive today. I wrote about him in college, in Orlando (twice), and in Los Angeles. I have been there for the full ride.

The first was a visit to LSU on behalf of the one publication that didn't survive. Our photographer decided to take a picture of Shaq's dunking from the top of a ladder behind the backboard.
 
"Hey, man," Shaq warned. "I dunk pretty hard."

Undaunted, the photographer got up on the ladder and, on Shaq's first jam, the ladder fell over and the photographer was left clinging to the top edge of the backboard. Shaq walked behind the basket and the photographer put his feet into Shaq's upstretched palms, and Shaq gently lowered him to the ground.

A couple years later, I saw him in a preacher's steamy gym in Orlando, where he was scrimmaging with his new teammates and he knocked away a shot by a lump named Stanley Roberts -- who was his former teammate at LSU -- so hard that Roberts immediately developed an injury and left the court for the day. I saw him play in Magic Johnson's benefit game in LA two weeks later and, after he'd thrown one down on Olden Polynice, Shaq winked at his agent's son who was sitting behind the basket.

That's how I first met him --- as a kid who once jumped off the roof of a friend's house, just for fun, and scared everyone inside because they thought there was an earthquake, who rode his bicycle in thunderstorms just for a laugh, who could still spin on his head at 7-2 because his great childhood dream had been to be a dancer on Fame, and who, upon learning that a Louisiana couple had named their newborn son after him, arranged to meet them and the baby. That kid's over 20 now. The original kid is 38 and a Celtic.  If I'm around to see the end, and if the end is as much fun as the beginning and middle have been, that's nothing but a good thing, and basketball is such a small part of it.

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