Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most recognizable figures in U.S. basketball, traveled to Havana, Cuba, Saturday in his capacity as the U.S. Department of State sports envoy where he offered a basketball clinic to a group of Cuban youths at a public court.
O'Neal, also known as Shaq, told reporters that he had wanted to come to Cuba for a long time and that it was a “dream” for him to help smooth relations between the two countries.
"We share a lot of things in common. We just want to come over here and extend our friendly hand and just start smoothing things out,” said Shaq.
Cuba and the United States recently restored diplomatic relations after decades of hostility. There have been a string of outreach efforts over recent months aimed a bringing the peoples of each country closer.
Most recently, the Tampa Bay Rays played Cuba's national baseball team in an exhibition game attended by Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama, who was the first sitting president to visit the island nation.
Shaq said he “loved Cuba and its people” and praised Obama and Castro's efforts to restore ties.
Shaq, who is ranked No. 7 in overall points scored in the NBA with 28,596 over his 19 seasons, is a four-time NBA champion, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and an Olympic world champion.
After demonstrating his ball-handling talents, he presented the workshop participants with jerseys bearing his name.
Shaq — who will remain on the island until Tuesday meeting with sports authorities, experts and Cuban basketball stars — will give another public workshop on Monday along with Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Kaleb Canales.