Shaquille O’Neal is already renowned for being one of the gentlest giants ever to grace the NBA. But the former basketballer saw his reputation arguably reach new heights when he offered his help to a dog-attack victim. Here’s a court-side look at the retired hoop star’s random act of kindness.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in March 1972, O’Neal caught attention on the basketball court in his teens. Then, after having moved south, he successfully guided his Texas high-school team to a state championship as a senior. And his prowess on the court continued into adulthood, as O’Neal also won numerous titles while studying at Louisiana State University in the late 1980s and early ’90s – including the coveted Adolph Rupp Trophy in 1991. And all this led the young talent to be selected to play for the Orlando Magic as an NBA draft first-round pick.
Weighing 330 pounds and with a height of 7’1”, O’Neal became one of the heaviest and loftiest athletes in professional basketball history. And the center used his imposing size to his advantage in the zone. Indeed, O’Neal was crowned Rookie of the Year in his first season with the Orlando Magic; in 1995 he also steered the team to the NBA Finals.
Then, in 1996 O’Neal dropped the Magic and joined the Los Angeles Lakers, where his career continued to flourish. There, he was an instrumental part of the team that lifted three consecutive titles after the turn of the century. However, a rivalry with Kobe Bryant eventually saw O’Neal return to Florida to play for the Miami Heat in 2004.
And after winning the NBA championship for a fourth time two years later, O’Neal joined the Phoenix Suns. He later enjoyed brief stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics before quitting the game in 2011 at the age of 39. By this point, the basketball legend had been picked for 15 All-Star games and made 14 All-NBA teams. In addition, he had won six Most Valuable Player awards and gained a reputation as one of the greatest centers ever.
Of course, O’Neal’s talents extend far beyond the backboard. In 1993, for instance, he entered the rap game with debut album Shaq Diesel, which went platinum and encouraged the star to release a further three studio efforts. He also guested on Michael Jackson’s HIStory album in 1995 and collaborated with teen idol Aaron Carter six years later. In 2000 the center even served as the Boston Pops Orchestra’s conductor for a special show at Boston Symphony Hall.
And O’Neal has also turned his hand to acting, becoming one of Hollywood’s first black superheroes in 1997’s Steel; he had already taken the lead in Blue Chips in ’94 and Kazaam in ’96. In addition, the former NBA player has made cameos in the likes of Jack and Jill and Scary Movie 4. He even got to portray himself in a 2001 edition of the sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm. Plus, of course, O’Neal has also fronted reality TV shows, such as ESPN’s Shaquille in 2005 and ABC’s Shaq Vs., which began airing four years later.
And, somehow, O’Neal has also found the time to pursue an interest in law enforcement. He worked as a reserve officer after training at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Reserve Academy, also becoming an honorary U.S. Deputy Marshal in 2005. Then, in 2016 he was sworn in as a sheriff’s deputy in Jonesboro, Georgia.
Then there’s O’Neal’s commitment to education. Having left Louisiana State University for the NBA without completing his degree, the ball player later resumed his studies as a pledge to his mom and scored a B.A. degree in general studies. He added to his academic achievements five years later with an online MBA from the University of Phoenix and picked up a human resource development doctoral degree from Miami’s Barry University in 2010. The star has subsequently furthered his studies at the New York Film Academy’s Conservatory and has announced plans to attend law school.
But O’Neal’s various pursuits on and off the court have still left him time for a private life. He’s a dad, for one, with four children aged 18 and under – Shareef, Amirah, Shaqir and Mearah – with former wife Shaunie Nelson, and another boy, Myles, from a previous relationship. The star married TV personality Nelson in 2002; sadly, though, the pair would divorce seven years later. And after parting ways with Nelson, O’Neal has dated reality star Nicole Alexander and model Laticia Rolle.
But as well as high-profile careers and a personal life in the public eye, O’Neal has made many headlines for his generous nature. In 2005, for instance, he entered the spotlight once again when he helped to pay for the funeral of George Mikan. Mikan was a Hall of Fame center who had been a big influence on O’Neal’s basketball career. The hoop-star-turned-rapper is also renowned for being a big tipper, and on one famous occasion in 1997 he gave $100 to a bellhop simply for taking him to a McDonald’s outlet.
And in March 2017 O’Neal proved once again what a good guy he is with a kind-hearted offer to the Atlanta family of a dog-attack victim. After learning about the story of Syrai Sanders, a five-year-old mauled by three vicious dogs in the street, O’Neal invited the girl and her mom and dad to an Atlanta branch of the Rooms To Go chain store. And once there, the star helped them out by buying them various brand new pieces of furniture.
Little Syrai had just spent two months in hospital receiving treatment for the dreadful injuries she sustained in the attack. In addition, the five-year-old was still coming to terms with using a tube to eat through. And, tragically, Syrai’s six-year-old classmate, Logan Braatz, had lost his life in the same incident. The pair had been innocently walking to a bus stop on their way to school when the dogs pounced.
And shortly after leaving hospital, Syrai bravely spoke about her awful ordeal in an interview with WGLC-TV, an Atlanta-based CBS affiliate. She remembered, “The dogs made me fall on the street. And then they bite me on my head and my ear. I said, ‘Help, help, somebody help me.’”
At the time, some of Syrai’s courageous young classmates had attempted to prise the dogs away from the unfortunate pair. Police officers eventually shot one of the canines and then subsequently handed the other two over to animal control. The dogs’ owner, one Cameron Tucker, was later charged with involuntary manslaughter.
And Poor Syrai had to undergo eight separate surgical procedures before she was able to go home to continue her recovery. What’s more, Sabrina Williams, the girl’s grandmother, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Syrai will probably require more operations in the future. However, despite the five-year-old’s ordeal, Sabrina reported that her granddaughter was “doing awesome. She’s got her same spirit.”
Sabrina also revealed that the family did not tell Syrai about the terrible fate of her classmate, Logan, until shortly before the little girl was discharged from hospital. “She misses him, playing with him and talking to him,” the grandmother revealed. Sabrina has additionally stepped in to assist her granddaughter by launching a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for Syrai’s increasing and ongoing medical costs.
But while it is still unknown why O’Neal chose furniture shopping as a way of helping the family, it’s clear that the former NBA player cares. Indeed, Syrai’s family told WAGA-TV that the star has been in contact with them ever since the attack. And pictures of O’Neal meeting the clan, including one showing him being hugged by Syrai, melted hearts when they appeared online.
But the shopping date with O’Neal was not the only surprise that awaited Syrai after leaving hospital. You see, the little girl was also thrown a special party by hosts Atlanta Parks and Recreation and the city’s fire department. A photo of the bash was posted on the latter’s official Twitter account, captioned, “Great to see her smiling face.”
That’s not all, either, as Syrai was also gifted her very own piano by a well-wishing Fox 5 viewer. Larry Tucker, a regional manager in Atlanta for the Yamaha Corporation, watched a news report about her appalling ordeal. He then arranged for the instrument to be delivered to the little girl’s home. “I love it and it’s mine,” a delighted Syrai remarked after receiving the present. For a real slam dunk, perhaps O’Neal could be tempted to freestyle over her first composition.