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‘Shaq-A-Claus’ Greets Kids in L.A. Return

December 25, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Shaquille O’Neal came to town to play Santa Claus to 250 kids Friday morning, and it didn’t matter that the grinning basketball star was no longer a member of the home team. After eight years as a star with the Los Angeles Lakers, O’Neal will play Saturday against the Lakers as a member of the Miami Heat.

But Friday, he was ``Shaq-A-Claus″ as he pulled up to the Challengers Boys & Girls Club in South Los Angeles in a truck filled with bicycles, Sony Playstations, karaoke machines, sneakers and other gifts.

``I’m glad to be back here. I miss everybody,″ O’Neal told reporters. ``These kids are the future.″

For several hours, O’Neal and teammate Damon Jones handed out gifts to the crowd. O’Neal bought many of the gifts himself during a Friday morning visit to a Toys-R-Us store.

``He gives back a lot to us,″ said 16-year-old Dwayne Gibbons, who received a video game console from O’Neal. ``He went back to Miami, but he doesn’t forget about us. That’s why I love him.″

It didn’t matter to the crowd that O’Neal would take the court at the Staples Center wearing another uniform. O’Neal downplayed talk of rivalry with former teammate Kobe Bryant _ although earlier this week he spoke of himself as a ``brick wall″ against Bryant’s ``Corvette.″

``Hopefully I’ll get a great reception (from the crowd),″ O’Neal said. ``But who knows what’s going to happen.″

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