NEWARK, N.J. - The key figure in an exciting day in Newark was hometown hero Shaquille O'Neal. The NBA legend and businessman, who grew up in Newark's South Ward, is behind the new Hawthorne Avenue basketball court, built it on the same spot where a boys and girls club he attended as a child used to be and where a court he refurbished in 1992 fell into disrepair. Thanks to his foundation and corporate sponsor Icy Hot, the new court is once again a nice place to play and be inspired.
"This court is for you guys, you guys can just come out here and follow your dreams. And take it from me, you can be whatever you want to be," O'Neal told the first kids to play on the court. "I'm you — I'm not the guy that was the smartest in school, I'm not the guy that was most popular, I'm you. We come from the same place."
After the motivational speech, the 15-time NBA all-star gave the kids some coaching tips.
Later in the day, O'Neal, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and Gov. Phil Murphy were at a ceremony celebrating the imminent completion of a 33-story residential tower across from the Prudential Center. O'Neal partnered with public and private entities to make it a reality.
"Today is not just the celebration of a new building where families will live — today shows that Newark is a good investment," Murphy said.
O'Neal said the development is a long-held dream come true.
"I've been trying to do stuff like this since 1992," O'Neal said.
Baraka praised O'Neal for staying involved in the city where he grew up.
"Without a shadow of a doubt, we can depend on him over and over again, to take care of our families, our communities — whether it's housing or recreation," the mayor said.
O'Neal will have a penthouse in the new tower, informally called Shaq Tower 2. Of the 370 apartments, 20% will be designated as affordable housing. The hope is that the additional residents will bring life to downtown Newark around the clock.