Did you hear the big news out of Massachusetts?
And I mean big news. As in 7-foot-1, 325 pounds, and size 23 shoes.
Shaquille O’Neal, the towering Boston Celtics center, received the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Framingham, Mass.-based Knox Trail Council on Monday night.
Shaq, as he’s known to basketball fans, attended a special awards dinner at which he spoke to Scouts and Scouters, learned to tie a square knot, and raced in a pinewood derby (he came in second).
The Distinguished Citizen Award goes to someone who “by personal example, demonstrates integrity and an unselfish concern for others in both their business and personal life.”
And Shaq definitely qualifies. He’s one of the National Basketball Association’s most active players in the community, and he has his own charitable organization, The Real Model Foundation, which helps homeless women and children.
He’s also got a great sense of humor.
When a Scout asked Shaq if he was a Boy Scout growing up, the guest of honor said he was—for a while.
“I was a Boy Scout three times, but I got kicked out every time,” he said in his famous deadpan delivery style. “The first time they kicked me out because I ate a box of Girl Scout cookies. The second time they kicked me out because I came in with a pigeon on my shoulder and said it was my Eagle Scout Award. And the third time they kicked me out because I burned down a national forest.”
All kidding aside, having Shaq in attendance at the dinner helped the council raise money and spread the word about Scouting across central Massachusetts and beyond.
Scott Harvey, the council’s Assistant Scout Executive, spoke with me by telephone about the importance of the event.
“It’s just huge,” he said. “It’s a big win for us. The comments from some of the families that were there were just priceless. Plus, how often do you get to be that close and personal with a celebrity?”
Not everyone could afford the cost of the dinner, so the council made sure that certain special guests could attend for free, Harvey said.
One one of those guests was an adult volunteer who currently has Stage IV cancer. When Shaq heard about the woman’s condition, he insisted that she join him and his fiancée at the VIP table for the night. He even got her contact information, ostensibly so he could invite her to a Celtics game or some other future event.
Shaq even gave his framed Distinguished Citizen Award to the woman.
But he kept another gift from the council: a Boy Scout campaign hat.
Did the council simply hand Shaq the hat? Nah, that’s no fun.
Instead, Scouters brought out a large ladder, and a Cub Scout climbed to the top to place it on Shaq’s head.
Funny, sure, but practical, too. I mean, how else were they going to get all the way up there?
All in all, it was a night “full of friendship and fellowship,” Harvey said. “The Knox Trail Council was just one big family that night.”