How Shaq moved a mountain to deliver one special gift

ByJackie MacMullan ESPN logo
Friday, December 2, 2016

In the summer of 1996, Shaquille O'Neal left the Magic to sign a $120 million Lakers contract, and bought a house in the opulent hills overlooking Beverly Hills. A few months later he and his uncle Mike hopped in the car for a drive across L.A., to Watts.

It's about an hour drive, but feels so far from the winding tree-lined hills of Mulholland Drive.

Shaq had thoughtfully chosen a community center there to reprise his role as Shaq-a-Claus. He told uncle Mike it was his favorite day of the year, and it was full of taking holiday orders from delighted kids. One by one, they eagerly revealed their wishes: a bicycle, the top-selling Mario video game, a Tickle Me Elmo, the new Cabbage Patch dolls which were selling out as soon as they hit the shelves.

He said yes to them all and promised Shaq-a-Claus would deliver the gifts two days before Christmas. Mission accomplished. Except ... as he turned to go, Shaq noticed one little boy who hadn't come forward.

Concerned that his large stature had frightened the child, Shaq bent down on one knee, placed his massive hand on his tiny shoulder and asked, "What do you want, little man?"

"I don't think you can help me,'' he answered softly.

"I bet I can,'' Shaq persisted. "You know, I'm pretty good friends with Santa.''

"What I really want," said the boy, "is for it to snow." He was quiet for a moment before explaining that he shared his Christmas wish with his mother. She sighed, hugged him close to her, and then told him, "I'm sorry, baby. It doesn't snow in Los Angeles, and we're stuck here.''

As Shaq and his uncle drove back toward the manicured lawns and the palm trees in his exclusive neighborhood, O'Neal was mostly silent. In fact, he didn't say anything until they turned into his driveway and he blurted out suddenly, "They ski in California, right?" Shaq-a-Claus had an idea.

Eventually, Dec. 23 arrived at last. Precisely on schedule, Shaq-a-Claus arrived with great fanfare at the Watts Community Center. He was accompanied by a convoy of vehicles packed with bicycles, video games, Cabbage Patch dolls and plenty of Tickle Me Elmos.

But there was a different kind of convoy that preceded Shaq and his sacks of toys.

An hour earlier, three oversized dump trucks rumbled down Central Avenue toward the community center. Each was filled to the brim with snow -- beautiful, white (all right, artificial), California snow, trucked to Watts from Bear Mountain in the San Bernardino National Forest. Shaq picked up the bill for the unusual shipment and instructed the workers to dump the snow into the Community Center parking lot.

By the time he arrived, the kids were gleefully making snow forts and snow angels.

The little boy who had been on O'Neal's mind was waiting with a smile and a snowball at the ready. He aimed for O'Neal's head, and missed.

And then it was on, the most incredible, wonderful, spectacular (and only) snowball fight in Watts history, with a future Hall of Fame big man, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and a Santa hat that was several sizes too small.

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