Trinidad & Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar Friday (June 29) unveiled plans to tackle crime through sport and employed American basketball vet, Shaquille O’Neal to help her with the task.
The retired NBA star will serve as the face of the Hoop of Life-The Sweat 2012″ competition which promises a $1 million prize for the best basketball team. Community teams will be pitted against each other in a bid for the top prize as well as a second place prize of $500,000 and a third place prize of $250,000.
Many young men from the surrounding area made their way to the Beetham Gardens launch where O’Neal spoke briefly about his hope for communities like Hell Yard, Beetham, which the prime minister has unofficially renamed “Hope Yard” and one resident called “Heaven’s Yard.”
O’Neal said his childhood neighbourhood was far worse than what he saw around him, calling the Beetham Gardens settlement “luxury”, by comparison. The former basketballer appealed to the young people of the community to be steadfast in their self-belief, the trait he said which led him to success.
“I was told I wasn’t smart,” said O’Neal, who graduated earlier this year from Barry University in the US with a PhD in organisational learning and leadership.
“I was told I can’t play. But I believed in myself.”
The prime minster said the Hoop of Life programme was a ‘Shaq attack’ on crime and juvenile delinquency. The programme is a project of the Ministry of National Security, now presided over by Jack Warner and formerly headed by Brigadier John Sandy. Several other State agencies, including the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco), were also part of the planning. More details about the programme will be revealed at a later date by Sport Minister Anil Roberts.
Between 1992 and 2011 O’Neal played for six teams: Orlando Magix, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. He now serves as an analyst ont he television program Inside the NBA. O’Neal who said he had always wanted to visit Trinidad and Tobago vowed to return for Carnival 2013.