Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

SHAQ SETS THE HOUSE ON FIRE NBA's Youngest Player Is Already a Pro-Basketball Superstar

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

SHAQ SETS THE HOUSE ON FIRE NBA's Youngest Player Is Already a Pro-Basketball Superstar

Article excerpt

A YOUNG man strolled into Boston Garden and wowed the crowd. All 7 ft., 1 in. and 303 pounds of Shaquille O'Neal - the National Basketball Association's biggest media event since Michael Jordan - came to Boston Jan. 15 for his first game against the Celtics here.

The 20-year-old, who prefers to be called Shaq, left Louisiana State University last spring as a junior and signed a reported $40 million contract with the Orlando Magic in August. That, together with a lucrative endorsement from Reebok shoes and an action-figure contract with Kenner toys, make him not only a very wealthy man, but also one of the most sought-after young superstars in professional sports.

"I would say he is the most physically gifted young man to enter the NBA since Wilt Chamberlain in 1959," says Bob Ryan, a Boston Globe sports columnist who has covered the National Basketball Association (NBA) for more than 20 years. "He combines his size with a gymnast's agility. Once he learns the nuances of the NBA, he has an opportunity to become the most powerful, pivotal force in the history of the NBA."

O'Neal seems to have made the transition from college to pro basketball without a hitch. He is fast becoming one of the best centers in the league, averaging 23.3 points, 15 rebounds, and 4.13 blocked shots per game.

Dale Brown, his former coach at Louisiana, said by phone that he knew he had someone very special in O'Neal. He worked diligently with him in regular practice and private drills to prepare him for the NBA. "At first, Shaq didn't want to work on his jump and hook shots - he was so powerful he could just dunk everything," Brown said. "So I brought in Kareem {Abdul-Jabbar} and Bill Walton to work on that. The following year I brought in Dr. J {Julius Erving} to talk to him about school and success, because {Erving} handled that so well. I tried to get good people to talk to him so he could ... keep his feet on the ground."

And his feet are on the ground - off the court, that is. O'Neal handled Boston press and autograph-seekers as effortlessly as he does the pro game. Mobbed by journalists after practice and the game, he calmly answered questions, bantered a bit, even made jokes.

When he was asked about all the media attention, he said: "It's a job; it's not that bad. I only spend 20 minutes after practice and 20 minutes before and after games with the press."

Terry Catledge, a teammate who has the locker next to O'Neal's in Orlando, says, "It can get crazy in the locker room ... with the number of reporters, but we know what type of player he is. …

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