Larger than life: Shaq attends local basketball game for literacy

Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal likes to sleep. He likes to watch TV. Sometimes, he hits his head on ceilings. He is a children’s book author, a four time NBA Player of the Year, a philanthropist, star of the General insurance commercials and an Olympic gold medalist. And on Sept. 10, in a little black folding chair, he sat in Charles Koch Arena for Storytime Village’s Hoops 4 Literacy event. 

Hoops 4 Literacy was the finale of Storytime Village’s Literacy Festival, a three-day event dedicated to promoting healthy literature habits in Wichita’s youth. The event, a basketball game with players from all occupations, was attended by O’Neal himself as well as many community leaders. 

On the court, city council members, Olympians and local basketball players squared off, neck-and-neck for the majority of the game. In the end, Team Literacy pulled through, ending the game with a score of 53-46. Both teams were scoring for promoting literacy.

“Events like this … (bring) awareness to literacy but also (show) you that literacy can be very fun,” Kynnedy Moore, member of Storytime Village’s art integration cohort, said. “You don’t have to just sit there and read but can do so many things through literacy.”

Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple attended the event, shaking hands with Wichitans and worldwide legends alike. 

“What we have here is not only a collection of some of the leaders of our community coming together for a good cause but also a chance for our young people to see some of these legends,” Whipple said. “It’s just an honor to be invited to something like this [and] to see the magic happening.”

A basketball game, between Team Literacy and Team Legacy, was held, with cheerleaders from Wichita East, Wichita Southeast and Wichita Heights high schools as well as Shocker cheerleaders and dancers. People of all ages and walks of life attended, uniting to watch the game that took place. 

“To host this at a place like Wichita State is also great for the school,” Moore said. “It shows that they are also supportive of big things like Storytime Village and what we are trying to push out into the community.”

Wichita State was also an ideal location for O’Neal, as one of his high school teammates lives and teaches here in Wichita. 

“Getting to meet Shaquille O’Neal (is) kind of a big deal for someone like me,” Whipple said. “I grew up in the 90s, and he was the guy whose jersey I once had.” 

O’Neal answered questions from Wichita elementary students following the halftime show. His answers had an all-around emphasis on respecting one’s parents and following your dreams. 

Before leaving the court, he chanted affirmations of following your dreams with students before allowing children to dance around him. The response was thunderous, and children could be seen examining their selfies with him and expressing their disbelief for the rest of the event. 

“It’s all around a really good event,” Whipple said. “It’s for a good cause.” 

While on the court, O’Neal donated a thousand laptops to Wichita Public Schools. Copies of his children’s book “Little Shaq Takes a Chance” were given to students. 

“I was taught to be honest and respectful,” O’Neal said. “I treat people how I expect them to treat me.”