Shaq helps raise money 'boxing' champ Tarver

ORLANDO ( - Those boxing lessons Shaquille O'Neal has been taking paid off this weekend.

His 140-pound weight advantage didn't hurt, either.

Although it was little more than a friendly dance for charity when O'Neal climbed into the ring with world light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, neither athlete totally could drop his naturally competitive instincts.

Even with those oversized pillow-soft gloves, Tarver must have wondered what hit him when O'Neal landed a right uppercut. It hurt.

"He's a big, powerful guy," understated Tarver, who was dwarfed by the not-so-gentle giant.

They were the main attraction at the Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund benefit at Universal Studios, which was a rousing success primarily because of O'Neal's stature still as the biggest attraction in sports.

It's why people such as Tarver, Charles Barkley, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, Rod Strickland, Dennis Scott, former football stars Doug Williams and Reggie White, local politicians like Richard Crotty, television celebrities like Omorosa and big-money season-ticket holders like David Siegel all were happy to lend an assist.

"People just like being around Shaq," said McGrady. "He's a magnet."

They raised more than $200,000 at the fund-raiser that included both a live and silent auction. As a favor, McGrady bid $30,000 for the use of a private yacht for a week.

Much like he did Saturday when he turned up in Lake County to provide an assist to a friend running for sheriff, O'Neal attracted an overflow crowd of more than 450 (at $125 a ticket) to the benefit Friday.

His mother organized the event in memory of his grandmother, who wanted to provide educational help for future nursing students. But it was O'Neal's presence that made it a success.

It's just one more example of why Orlando Magic fans still wince when they think about what might have happened here if O'Neal had not left as a free agent for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996. Or if he had been traded back to the Magic -- and not the Miami Heat -- earlier this summer.

By Tim Povtak
Aug 9, 2004
© Copyright 2004-2005

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