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    Shaq a no-show at Tampa events

    The NBA star disappoints young fans who paid big bucks to meet their idol this weekend.

    By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 19, 2002
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    TAMPA -- Shaquille O'Neal was a no-show at his celebrity basketball game at the Ice Palace on Sunday night, infuriating the parents and children who paid to see the Los Angeles Lakers superstar and his NBA brethren.

    O'Neal also missed his basketball clinic and autograph session at the USF Sun Dome this weekend. Many paid $250 to meet O'Neal at a two-day basketball clinic and receive a ticket to the game, only to be stood up Saturday and twice on Sunday.

    "I wanted to meet him bad, real bad," said 7-year-old Jimmy Friday, dressed in a Lakers jersey. "I'm his biggest fan, I would say. I wanted to get his autograph. I wanted to get his autograph more than anybody in the world."

    And behind every disappointed child Sunday night stood a frustrated parent. Meet Jimmy's dad, 37-year-old Norman Friday of Orlando:

    "It is kind of disappointing considering we did drive down an hour and a half to meet him," Friday said, "and he's not even here."

    It was the third consecutive charity fundraiser the Los Angeles Lakers superstar skipped in Tampa this weekend. He stood up Gov. Jeb Bush and a $100-a-plate dinner charity fundraiser at the Marriott Waterside Friday night. Then he skipped both days of his basketball clinic and autograph session at the USF Sun Dome this weekend.

    Orlando Magic All-Star Tracy McGrady, who was to be the celebrity coach opposite O'Neal, was also among the big-name no-shows. But at least Toronto Raptors star Vince Carter showed up. His dunking exhibition was the only consolation for an underwhelming crowd of less than 2,500, one that quietly seethed at the start of Sunday's event and then slowly trickled out the exits.

    Only a few stayed until the end, when Carter led the blue team to a 105-98 win over the gold in a battle of minor celebrities. Carter was then chased from the court by a crush of autograph hounds. Parents pushing their way to the Ice Palace floor to get autographs, any autographs, had to contend with security personnel trying to send them the other way.

    Nina Garcia, 10, of Lutz, said it was a weekend to forget.

    "I was very disappointed," she said. "All the kids were very disappointed, and the parents were, too."

    Garcia said she was also unhappy with how the clinic was run. She complained that older and younger kids were mixed together, regardless of playing ability, and that led to rough play.

    "It was unorganized," she said. "They didn't have it by age, they didn't have it by like how good we were or how bad we were. They didn't care. They were just throwing in 10-year-olds and 15-year-olds together. There were things I didn't like about it."

    Garcia said when O'Neal didn't show up at the clinic Sunday morning, the kids made some predictions about Sunday night.

    "You know what, he's not going to show,' " she said the kids told each other. "So I wasn't really keeping my hopes up high."

    K.C. Craichy, the 39-year-old chief executive officer of Living Fuel in Tampa, said he paid for eight $60 tickets for Sunday's event.

    "It's a bait and switch," he said.

    "He's probably locked up in his hotel room," said 10-year-old Jonathan Franklin of Tampa, "and he's playing video games."

    Actually, O'Neal was in Orlando, according to Darryl Madison, the chief operating officer of Paramount Celebrity Management, which promoted the weekend fundraiser for literacy and other causes.

    According to Madison, O'Neal was paid $50,000 to headline the event and appear at Friday's dinner, the weekend clinic and Sunday's game. He said he had been in contact with O'Neal on Saturday and believed the NBA star would show Sunday night after missing the weekend's other events. He said he was given no explanation as to why O'Neal didn't show to any of the events.

    "We were able to pull off a miracle with the fact that we were able to get some NBA players to come to Tampa without Shaquille O'Neal," he said.

    The Ice Palace refunded a few dozen $250 tickets for a VIP meet-and-greet to be held Sunday afternoon on the basketball court before the game. The ticket-holders showed up at 3 p.m., said Ice Palace spokesman Bill Wickett, but there were no celebrities to meet or greet them.

    Wickett said the Ice Palace offered to help the promoters publicize and organize the event, but were rebuffed.

    "From the Ice Palace's perspective, we're very disappointed because circumstances beyond our control have prevented our guests from experiencing an event they came here to see," he said.

    So what's the plan now?

    "We're going to have to revisit all of this and I'm going to have to talk to my attorneys," Madison said.

    So is he going to try to get the money back from Shaq?

    "That's the goal," he said.

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