Real-Life Santa: Shaq Celebrates 20 Years of Giving Gifts to Kids

by Maggie Schneider

Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal is giving back with his annual event “Shaq-A-Claus.” The NBA icon is spreading holiday joy to kids in Atlanta.

Every year, there are 15 million children who do not receive any toys on Christmas Day. Thankfully, Shaquille O’Neal is doing what he can to drop these numbers at his annual event in Atlanta. Yesterday marked the athlete’s 20th year of giving gifts to children.

The NBA Hall of Famer’s event took place at West Lake Elementary School Monday morning. More than 500 students received a present from Shaq, as well as took pictures with the star. Kids with perfect attendance were given first dibs to the gym full of gifts. They were also excited to see a life-size Tonka dump truck outside of the school.

In an interview with TMZ, Shaquille O’Neal discusses the story behind “Shaq-A-Claus.”

“I’d like to thank my mother because she created ‘Shaq-A-Claus’ in 1992,” he begins. “She went to an event and there were 500 kids who were not getting toys, so she called me and said ‘baby can you send me some money?’ I said ‘Mother what’s wrong?’ She said ‘I want to get some toys.'”

With the help of his mom and extended family, Shaquille O’Neal took a U-Haul truck to Toys-R-Us. They “wiped out” the store and the first event was born. He also bought other items like coats and socks to give to the kids.

Shaquille O’Neal Wants to Expand ‘Shaq-A-Claus’

Shaquille O’Neal is not just bringing joy to kids in the Atlanta area. The “Shaq-A-Claus” event occurs in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Boston, New Jersey, Baton Rouge, and Orlando. While he is present in five states currently, it is his dream to make it a nationally touring event.

“It is my dream to host…a 50 state ‘Shaq-A-Claus’ marathon.” He jokes with TMZ that they should help invest in this dream. The outlet is very supportive of this venture.

The annual event is just one way that the athlete gives back. His non-profit, The Shaquille O’Neal Foundation, is dedicated to “collectively shaping a brighter future for our children.” According to its mission statement, it “creates pathways for underserved youth, to help them achieve their full potential.”

O’Neal partners with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Communities in Schools to make the biggest impact possible. From awarding grants, to providing school supplies to underserved schools, the athlete does everything he can to make a difference.

“I want them to have fun. I want them to smile, I think they understand that I speak their language.”

For more information on The Shaquille O’Neal Foundation, go here.