Shaquille O’Neal brings smiles, laughter at Alabama Boy Scouts luncheon

Shaquille O’Neal brings smiles, laughter at Alabama Boy Scouts luncheon
Shaquille O'Neal, left, poses with a gift from the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which Jeff Speegle presented to him. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

“What inspires you?” wondered one of the Boy Scouts who asked Shaquille O’Neal a series of questions.

“What inspires me? I just like to make people smile,” O’Neal answered.

The 2017 American Values Luncheon of the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America on Friday was full of smiles and raucous laughter – most of them initiated by the man known as “Shaq.”

Among the zingers:

  • “I have a confession: When I was young I wanted to be a Boy Scout, but the uniform wouldn’t fit. So I decided to play basketball.”
  • “I have another confession to make. I wasn’t really affiliated with the Boy Scouts. I’m a Girl Scouts type of guy. I like what they do with the cookie program.”
  • When a young Scout referenced O’Neal’s commercial for a Buick, he questioned whether the 7-foot-1-inch basketball great who wears a size 22 shoe and weighs well north of 300 pounds could really fit in a “normal-sized” car, O’Neal responded, “For $3 million, I can fit in anything.”
  • Upon learning that his first $1 million payday wasn’t really $1 million because of taxes and withholdings, O’Neal asked a Boy Scout if he knew who FICA was? (A reference to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax as it is listed on a paystub.) The Scout didn’t know. “I don’t know either, but when I see him, I’m going to knock him out,” O’Neal said.

Jeff Speegle, sports anchor with ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, asked Shaq a rapid-fire series of prepared questions,

Speegle: “Breakfast, lunch or dinner?”

O’Neal: “All three combined. And it’s called Waffle House. My favorite place.”

Speegle: “Best golf swing, you or (former Auburn and NBA star) Charles Barkley?”

O’Neal: Rolls his eyes. “Me. Charles’ swing is ‘turrible!’”

Speegle: “Best dresser, you or Charles Barkley?”

O’Neal: “Me.”

Speegle: “Best trash talker when you played, you or Charles Barkley?”

O’Neal: “Charles. All day, Charles!”

Shaquille O’Neal talks to Alabama Boy Scouts from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

But it wasn’t all about the laughs. O’Neal had all of the youths in the audience stand up and repeat a mantra that included respecting their elders, their parents and law enforcement. He urged them to be leaders and not followers, do the right things, get an education and make good choices.

O’Neal’s son, Shareef, is already showing signs of basketball greatness in high school.

When his son told him he was having trouble handling the pressure, O’Neal said it was like déjà vu because he once told his own father the same thing.

“So my father takes me for a ride and we see a homeless family,” O’Neal remembered. “He said, ‘That’s pressure. When you don’t know where you’re next meal is coming from, that’s pressure. It’s not pressure playing a sport that you love.’”

Christian Cooper, a former Eagle Scout, recounts his story of surviving burns after a car fire just over a year ago. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

It was one of several poignant moments during the luncheon, which included Christian Cooper, a former Eagle Scout who was severely burned in a car accident just over one year ago.

Cooper recounted his story and how he was unable to open his driver’s side door or break the window to escape the fire. He lamented not having one of those window breaking tools in the car. He prided himself on the Boy Scout motto to “Be prepared.”

“I was not prepared, but I was prepared to survive,” Cooper said.

After four attempts to kick out the windshield, it gave way and he escaped, but not before suffering third-degree burns on over 80 percent of his body. The past year has been spent surviving surgeries and rehabilitation but Cooper thanked his time in the Boy Scouts for preparing him for such challenges.

Also at the luncheon, Kate Nielsen, Claude Nielsen and James F. Hughey Jr. received “Heart of an Eagle” awards.

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