By Nick DukeJuly 31, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga., (July 31, 2013) -- More than 50 children from across Fort Benning were able to interact with a basketball legend July 24, as future NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal made a stop in Columbus to visit the SaMarc Dream and Achieve Foundation's basketball camp.
O'Neal said he enjoys participating in various camps and youth-based activities because of his Family background.
"I'm good with children because one of my jobs growing up was to babysit my little brothers and sisters," he said. "So, I had to come up with creative ways to get their attention. Now, being a father of six, I have to do all kinds of things to get their attention. So with this, it's a basketball camp, and I just wanted to come out and motivate them a little bit."
O'Neal's stepfather was a member of the Army Reserve, and the Family moved frequently.
Despite his constant moves, O'Neal was able to garner attention from Louisiana State University. He would go on to star for the Tigers before crafting one of the greatest careers in NBA history. During his 19 years in the league, O'Neal played for six teams, won four NBA championships, three NBA Finals MVP awards, and one NBA MVP. He also was a 15-time NBA All-Star, a three-time All-Star Game MVP, a two-time scoring champion and made the All-NBA First Team eight times.
"I'm the guy for some reason that is the portal to show that you can go from being a regular guy to a superstar," O'Neal said. "When I was coming up, being a superstar was out of reach. I'm the guy that they see has been through the same things that they've been through. I'm a military child, so I always tell everybody that if I could do it in these conditions, so can they."
The effort to get O'Neal to Columbus was made by former NBA player Sam Mitchell and former University of Rhode Island player Marc Upshaw, co-founders of SaMarc.
Mitchell talked with O'Neal while the two were working for TNT this past season, and O'Neal eventually agreed to be a part of the SaMarc camp.
Upshaw said the appeal of working with military children was something O'Neal couldn't pass up.
"His father was in the Army, so it kind of touched him and he wanted to come back and share his experiences with these kids," Upshaw said.
When O'Neal arrived at the camp, the campers were clearly excited to be spending time with the former NBA star, something Upshaw said made the effort worthwhile.
"We've been doing this now for nine years, and Sam and I don't make any money from this," Upshaw said. "When we see the kids smile and see their eyes get wide and they start to cheer, that's what it's all about. That's what makes it worth it."
Despite working for TNT as an NBA analyst during the season, O'Neal stays busy during the offseason with a variety of projects. He recently played a key role in the comedy film Grown Ups 2, and was shooting another movie with comedy star Adam Sandler when he took a break from filming to visit Columbus.
"I thought he was a great basketball player, but now I know that he's a great person," Upshaw said. "I see he has a big heart and he spent time with these kids at a time when his schedule is so full and he really didn't have to."