LOS ANGELES -- Shaquille O'Neal came to town to play Santa
Claus to 250 kids Friday morning, and it didn't matter that the
grinning basketball star was no longer a member of the home team.
After eight years as a star with the Los Angeles Lakers, O'Neal
will play Saturday against the Lakers as a member of the Miami
But Friday, he was "Shaq-A-Claus" as he pulled up to the
Challengers Boys & Girls Club in South Los Angeles in a truck
filled with bicycles, Sony Playstations, karaoke machines, sneakers
and other gifts.
"I'm glad to be back here. I miss everybody," O'Neal told
reporters. "These kids are the future."
For several hours, O'Neal and teammate Damon Jones handed out
gifts to the crowd. O'Neal bought many of the gifts himself during
a Friday morning visit to a Toys-R-Us store.
"He gives back a lot to us," said 16-year-old Dwayne Gibbons,
who received a video game console from O'Neal. "He went back to
Miami, but he doesn't forget about us. That's why I love him."
It didn't matter to the crowd that O'Neal would take the court
at the Staples Center wearing another uniform. O'Neal downplayed
talk of rivalry with former teammate Kobe Bryant -- although earlier
this week he spoke of himself as a "brick wall" against Bryant's
"Hopefully I'll get a great reception (from the crowd),"
O'Neal said. "But who knows what's going to happen."