The 1992 men’s squad was better known as The Dream Team, with Michael Jordan heading the star-studded roster, but the 1996 team was also well represented by Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal.
During a practice I was cutting up with an Indiana Pacers ballboy who was helping with the scrimmage. We were standing under one of the baskets when I suddenly realized that Shaq was standing at the free-throw line, holding a basketball and staring at us. He had been attempting free throws and thought we were maybe laughing at his less-than-impressive abilities, but we had not been paying any attention to him.
I was sure that was the case when he fired the ball to me and said, “You think you can do better?”
I had been a basketball referee for several years and did have the ability to catch a fast-moving ball. Smiling, I said that maybe I could. Hence, a shooting contest was underway.
At the point when I had made 2-of-4 and Shaq was 2-of-3, a coach ushered me off the court – game over.
I claimed a tie because we had both made two baskets, but Shaq claimed a win by percentage.
While driving the team around I noticed that Barkley sat a couple of rows behind my seat. We often made eye contact when glancing in the inside rearview mirror at the same time, and that prompted him to initiate a funny monologue: “Look back there in the bus. Look at all those millionaires. Look, they all have on headsets, listening to that music. Boop-dee-boop … boop-dee-boop!”
After we had dropped off the teams to the airport for their flight to Atlanta and returned to the lot where the buses were parked, I found a large pair of high-top basketball shoes stuffed under a passenger seat in my bus.
I had telephone numbers for the coaches, and when I was sure that they were at their team compound in Atlanta I called. They assured me that the shoes were not going to be needed for the Olympic Games. They asked if I had any idea who might own the shoes, and I explained that Shaq had been sitting in that area. I was told to hang onto them and if I didn’t hear anything in a few days they were mine.
After a few months I took the shoes to a store that sold them and explained to the salesmen that they were a gift but the wrong size. He looked at them and was speechless after glancing at my feet.
I exchanged them for a pair in my size, and there was enough credit left over for four shirts. After the transaction was completed I told the clerk how I happened across the shoes. He yelled ecstatically that he had Shaq’s shoes and that he was going to keep them.
Shonk is a 1960 graduate of Southport High School, a’63 grad of Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) and a retired bus driver from Beech Grove Schools.