Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal got to live out a childhood dream while celebrating the 75th anniversary of Tonka, when the four-time NBA champion cruised through New York City on a life-sized Tonka truck.
"I've always loved everything from Tonka, and the same games I used to play myself, I played with my kids," says O'Neal, 50. The father-of-six says he's been playing with Tonka's trucks "since the seventies" and buying them for his own children since the 90s. "[Tonka] wouldn't have to pay me at all, I'm a Tonka tough kid," he laughs.
On Friday, the toy company and O'Neal hit the streets of New York City in a big, yellow truck to hand out toys, sign autographs, and snap pictures with some lucky fans. "It was fun," he says with a smile in the conference room at Tonka's offices. "A lot of kids showed up and they were excited to see me, but even more excited when I handed out the gold truck that they only made 1000 of. The look on their faces made me want to have children again."
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"When Tonka approached me, I was like, 'Of course.' Even at the tender age of 50, I remember from age seven to 12 me having a Tonka truck, and also me buying my children Tonka trucks," says O'Neal.
The NBA on TNT analyst recalls using Tonka trucks to turn his house into a giant game of Monopoly when his children were younger. "I used to have this area in my house, it was a rug, but I put some lines in it and made it look like it was a road. I gave each kid a house in the neighborhood and they parked their cars, and they would trade cars, and Tonka trucks would come through."
O'Neal credits his years of fatherhood for his ability to connect with his younger fans. "I'm just amazed that they know who I am. I'm also amazed that they're not scared. It's just that my experience as a father teaches me how to deal with all type of children. I have six kids, but I've dated ladies with children and I'm still now today probably raising 15 children that I call my own. So, I speak the language, I know what to do."
In fact, O'Neal developed a clever way to make kids laugh when he meets them. "One lady that works with me, her son was so beautiful, he's four. I was like, '9?' He's like, 'No, 4.' Then I ask, 'Like 44?' and he says, 'No, 4!' so I told him, 'I don't know how to count to four, you have to teach me.' And then the kids they count to four with me, so I've been doing that for 30 years, and it works."
O'Neal and his ex-wife Shaunie O'Neal share four children together: sons Shareef and Shaqir and daughters Amirah and Me'arah. The athlete also has a stepson, Myles, from Shaunie's previous relationship, and a daughter, Taahirah, with his former girlfriend, Arnetta Yardbourgh.
This upcoming NBA season will be the first for Shareef O'Neal, who signed a six-figure contract to play for the Nevada-based G League Ignite, The Athletic reported.
An elite player during his time in the NBA, O'Neal quickly made a name for himself as a dominant big man when he was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1992. Now, as his son's generation of basketball players being to enter the league 11 years after his retirement, O'Neal recalls the valuable advice from his father that's stuck with him for years.
"My father used to always tell me, you have to make them remember your name. I did what I wanted to do, I did it my way. I've had my jersey retired in a couple of places, so I'm happy with that."