The visit by retired U.S. basketball star Shaquille O‘Neal to a court in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado greatly impressed the young Cuban players there.
They knew all about the 2.16 meter tall athlete who for many years shone in the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA).
O‘Neal told the press shortly before starting a basketball clinic with Cuban children that “I have wanted to come for many years; being here as an ambassador of sport to strengthen relations between Cuba and the United States is a dream come true.”
The star, who played 19 seasons with different NBA teams, was officially sent to Cuba by the U.S. State Department as part of the process to normalize bilateral relations.
Shaquille, who won four NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat teams, said “I love Cuba and its people which is why it is so good that the rapprochement between the two countries becomes real through sports like baseball, soccer and basketball.
A world champion in Toronto-1994 and Olympic champion in Atlanta-1996, O‘Neal is one of the most skillful and distinguished professional basketball players of all time.
The Basketball Hall of Fame member also met with Cuban sports specialists, great sporting figures and members of the Havana basketball team.
Cuban basketball player Eliecer Lima told The Havana Reporter that “I never thought I would be sharing the court with such a sports star. It is great for Cuban sport”.
During the basketball clinics and his visit in general, O‘Neal was accompanied by the Dallas Mavericks’ team coach Kaleb Canales.
“Sharing with Shaquille O‘Neal is a great opportunity both for us and for Cuban children,” Canales, who in 2012 became the first Mexican-born U.S. citizen to coach an NBA team said.
In addition to coaching and serving as a referee in some games, O‘Neal took advantage of his stay in Cuba to visit cultural and emblematic places and to foster Cuba-U.S. relations.
Shortly before returning home, “Shaq” left a written testament about his feelings for the island.
He wrote “I love you Cuba” in Spanish in the visitor’s book at the Guanabacoa Museum.Share on FB Share on TT