Demetrius Kambouris/Getty Images Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal got his childhood dream during the Tonka’s 75th anniversary celebration, when the four-time NBA champion toured New York City in a life-size Tonka truck.
“I’ve always loved everything from Tonka, and the same games I’ve been playing myself, I’ve been playing with my kids,” says O’Neill, 50. The father of six says he’s been playing with Tonka trucks “since the ’70s” and buying them for his kids since the ’90s. “[Tonka] He won’t have to pay me at all, I’m a strong Toonka boy,” he laughs.
On Friday, the toy company and O’Neill rolled into the streets of New York City in a big yellow truck distributing toys, signing autographs and posing for photos with some lucky fans. “It was fun,” he says with a smile in the Tonka office conference room. “Lots of kids showed up and were excited to see me, but even more excited when the golden truck they made only gave out 1,000 of them. The look on their faces made me want to have kids again.”
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“When the Tonka approached me, I was like, ‘Of course.’ Even at age 50, from seven to twelve I remember owning a Tonka truck, and also buying my kids Tonka trucks,” says O’Neill.
The NBA on TNT The analyst remembers using Tonka Trucks to turn his house into a giant Monopoly game when his children were younger. “This area used to be in my house, it was a rug, but I put some lines in it and made it look like a road. I gave every kid a house in the neighborhood and they parked their cars, they would trade cars, and the Tonka trucks would come.”
O’Neill credits his parenting years with his ability to connect with his young fans. “I’m just surprised they know who I am. I am also surprised that they are not afraid. My experience as a father teaches me how to deal with all kinds of children. I have six kids, but I’ve dated women who have kids and I’m still now probably raising 15 kids that I call my own. So, I speak the language, and I know what to do.”
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In fact, O’Neill has developed a clever way to make kids laugh when he meets them. “One lady working with me, her son was very beautiful, he’s four years old. I was like, ‘9?'” He’s like, “No, 4.” Then I ask, “Like 44?” And he says, “No, 4!” And I said to him, “I don’t know how to count to four, you have to teach me.” Then he would count the kids back to four with me, so I was doing that. For 30 years, and it worked.”
O’Neal and his ex-wife Shawnee O’Neill have four children together: sons Sharif and Shaqar and daughters Amira and Mara. The athlete also has a stepson, Myles, from Shaunie’s previous relationship, and a daughter, Taahirah, with his ex-girlfriend, Arnetta Yardbourgh.
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The Athletic reports that the upcoming NBA season will be a first for Sheriff O’Neal, who has signed a six-figure contract to play with Nevada-based J-League Ignite.
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 recruited by the Orlando Magic in 1992. Now, as his son’s generation of basketball players have entered the league 11 years after his retirement, he recalls O’Neill’s valuable advice from his father that stuck with him for years.
“My dad 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 retired my shirt in two places, so I’m happy with that.'”