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|| News Item: Posted 2011-06-14

So long Shaq ... we'll miss ya

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Newsletter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

USA TODAY's Robert Hanashiro shot a self-portrait with Shaquille O'Neal after a photo shoot at his home before the start of the 2000 NBA Finals.
He had been known off and on as: "Diesel", "Shaq Fu", "Big Daddy", "The Real Deal", "Superman", “M.D.E. (Most Dominant Ever)”, “Osama Bin Shaq”, “Wilt Chamberneazy”, “The Big Deporter”, "The Big Aristotle”, "The Big Galactus", "The Big Shaqtus" and "The Big Shamrock”.

For me, he’ll always be The Big Photo Op.

When I heard that Shaquille O’Neal had announced his retirement after 19 years in the NBA, I immediately thought back fondly to a memorable time I spent with him at his home on the eve of the Game 1 of the 2000 Finals .

The assignment was to get a portrait of Shaq and whatever “at home” photos I could get. His agent told our photo editor we’d get “maybe 30-40 minutes” and there would also be a Sports Illustrated reporter “hanging around”.

Our “30-40 minutes” turned into four hours of rollicking fun, unguarded moments and behind-the-scenes photos that most photographers could only dream of.

After arriving at his hilltop home, I was let in by Shaq’s sister, who I later found out was his dresser --- “he couldn’t match up a shirt and pants to save his life” she laughed after showing me several outfits she had picked out for him to wear that day.

On this day, you could have added “The Big Baby Sitter” to his list of monikers - -- several kids were running around the house, children of Laker office personnel also hanging out for the day. Shaq had told them to bring the kids to play…

Among the high-tech toys, video arcade games and movie theater-size TVs the one thing absent was a trophy case. When the reporter I was with asked about that, we were told that all of that hardware was at his parent’s home because his father didn’t want him to “get a big head.”

From a hysterical mock Academy Award acceptance speech holding a miniature “Oscar” statue to showing off his video editing skills combining home movies with his rap music (years before the term “mashup” was even invented) to a reenactment of a fight scene from “Enter The Dragon” with a life size statue of Bruce Lee --- Shaq was having fun.

And making some fun photos.

“What else can we do?” Shaq said after we’d been at the house for several hours and we started to make plans for lunch, a trip to the only basketball hoop in the neighborhood (at a nearby park) and riding go carts in his backyard.

The next thing we know, we’re being chased out by his manager Leonard Armato, who had just arrived…

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Shaquille O'Neal clowns around with a life size statue of martial arts start Bruce Lee in the game room of his Los Angeles home the day after beating the Portland in the Western Conference Finals in 2000.
As I said my thanks to Shaq as we walked to the front door, he said to me under his breath: “He’s big a fun hater.”

Reporters have noted in the retirement stories after Shaq’s announcement that he could be “prickly” to the media, especially later in his career. But on that day in early June just a couple of days before the NBA Finals, he was bigger than life and more fun than any human being has the right to be.

We’ll miss you big guy.

(Epilog: The story ran on the front page of USA TODAY, one of the photos we used was Shaq punching the Bruce Lee statue…a few days later we received a angry letter from a woman chastising us for promoting violence by running that photo of an “African – American beating up a small Asian man…”)

* * * We are still accepting application for THE coolest sports photography event of the year --- Sports Shooter VIII. Space is going quickly, especially the student spots. For information about the SSA VIII, go to the workshop site at:

* * *

And speaking of workshops, my good friend Barry Wong is holding a class “The Art Of Food Photography” on July 9 in Seattle. Barry has worked with some of the great chefs in the Pacific Northwest and his stories, photography and knowledge will be an inspiration to everyone that attends. Here's a link for more information and to register: .

* * *

Congrats! - To Mick Cochran, now the former director of photography at USA TODAY, after retiring from the Nation’s Newspaper last month. Mick: I appreciate all of the things you taught me during your time at USAT and for having my back. Enjoy your time on your boat in Rhode Island buddy! -

  To Mark Cuban for showing a lot of class in having Don Carter, the Mavs’ original owner, accept the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy…and for not being a distraction during one of the most entertaining NBA Finals in a long time. Maybe the Super Team can take some notes on this...

  - And lastly to my daughter Emma on graduating from William S. Hart High School. I can’t believe 18 years went by that fast…

* * *

This month’s issue of the Sports Shooter Newsletter features a couple of timely stories about preparing to cover dangerous natural disasters. Brian Blanco writes about his experiences covering hurricanes and Rafael Augustine Delgado gives us the lowdown on being safe covering wildfires.

We have not one but two Cool Gigs this month. Preston Mack recounts his recent photo shoot with quarterback Tim Tebow and Jonathan Moore found a cool event to cover while pursing Facebook, Tough Mudder.

Matt Brown discusses why giving back is a good thing for not just the people you’re helping. Shawn Cullen writes an installment of Ask Sports Shooter on securing remote cameras.

And Adorama and Roberts Distributors have cool gear news and specials for Sports Shooter readers.

* * *

Photo by
Reading two fun books this week… “Medium Raw” Anthony Bourdain’s follow up to his wildly popular “Kitchen Confidential and Gilbert Gottfried’s hysterical “Rubber Balls And Liquor”. (I know, I know Gottfried got canned from his Aflack gig for an insensitive Twitter post about the tsunami in Japan…still the book is hilarious. But keep it away from under-aged children…)

And what I am listening to this month includes Emmylou Harris’ latest “Hard Bargain” and “Blessed” from Lucinda Williams…both highly recommended.

* * *

As always, special thanks to: Deanna & Emma Hanashiro, Brad Mangin, Grover Sanschagrin, Joe Gosen, Jason Burfield, Jody Grober of Robert Distributors and Jeff Snyder of Adorama.

Thanks this month to contributors: Brian Blanco, Rafael Augustine Delgado, Preston Mack, Matt Brown, Michael McNamara, Jonathan Moore and Shawn Cullen.

The comments, opinions and other perceived nutty statements that the writers may have expressed, implied, imagined or made up are theirs and theirs alone. Sports Shooter, Inc. and published these articles in good faith with the purpose of education and inspiration. Permission in writing must be obtained from Sports Shooter, Inc. and the author of the article before being reprinted. I welcome any comments, corrections, suggestions and contributions. Please e-mail me at The Sports Shooter Archives as well as tons of cool resources and information can be accessed through the Internet at For information on the Sports Shooter Academy workshop, go to the newly redesigned site at:

Contents copyright 2019, Do not republish without permission.
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