Shaquille O'Neal becomes Boston's 'Big Maestro'

Tue, Dec 21

Just call him "Maestro Shamrock."

Shaquille O'Neal has packed a lot of action into his brief time in Boston. He's played some basketball. He's pretended to be a statue in Harvard Square. He's crashed a wedding. Now, he can add his experience conducting the city's legendary orchestra, the Boston Pops, to his resume.

"[Celtics PR director Heather Walker] asked me if I wanted to conduct the orchestra," O'Neal said. "I was like, 'Seriously, like a real orchestra?'"

Technically, it was an orchestra and a choir.

So the Celtics center, in a tuxedo with tails, took the Symphony Hall stage Monday night to lead the orchestra in three numbers. He was the first basketball player to lead the Pops, and, at 7-foot-1, the tallest guest conductor in the organization's 125-year history.

"I have a whole new respect for conductors," O'Neal said before his performance. "I went through a rehearsal today, and my arms are shot right now."

But he played through the fatigue. Displaying the level of focus that made him a 15-time All Star, O'Neal waved the conductor's baton with absolute seriousness as he led the Pops in the Christmas classic "Sleigh Ride."

During his set's second song -- The Jackson Five's "Can You Feel It" -- the NBA star loosened up and danced a little, proving he clearly could feel it.

To finish his set, O'Neal opted for another non-holiday number, but the audience didn't seem to mind.

"This is a song I hope you all will be singing on June 27 when the NBA season is over," he said, leading the Pops in a rendition of Queen's "We Are the Champions."

After the performance, he took a large bow to a standing ovation and high-fived his way off stage.