Shaquille O’Neal is still drawing standing ovations. He got one Wednesday in Sarasota

The laughter started when he went off-script to interrupt the introductory remarks inside Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

An hour later, there were plenty more chuckles complete with a standing ovation following his guest performance at the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series.

Shaquille O’Neal isn’t just an NBA legend, he’s also a larger-than-life personality with a humble demeanor aiming for his legacy to be something simple:

“He was a nice guy,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal was the first athlete to take part in the lecture series, now in its 39th installment, which continues Monday, Feb. 4, with former FBI director James Comey.

O’Neal’s time on the stage at the Van Wezel ran the gamut from his upbringing, teenage years, time at LSU, education, law enforcement dealings, business acumen and plenty more.

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Shaquille O’Neal stands with a portrait of himself during his visit to Sarasota on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 for the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Valerie Strenk (right) and Scott Gordley (far left), of the Ringling College, pose with O’Neal and Jamie Green, who illustrated the portrait. Jason Dill

He credits Lakewood Ranch resident and well-known ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale for giving him the belief he was a great player, because O’Neal said he was told he wasn’t a great player for so long that he believed that.

O’Neal said Vitale didn’t know who he was when he showed up to the McDonald’s All-American game, but promised him he’d know him soon.

“I said to myself, ‘When I get the ball, I’ve got to make sure Dick Vitale knows my name,’ ” O’Neal said. “So I went coast-to-coast and threw it down, and I looked at him and he was going crazy: ‘Shaquille O’Neal!!!’ ”

At his core, O’Neal is a philanthropist who strives to stamp out homelessness, a humanitarian and someone who aims to make people laugh.

“I always wanted to be that guy that when you see him on TV or go on his Instagram or go on his Twitter, I want to be that guy in this world we live in that makes you laugh,” he said.

And that translates into the commercials starring Shaq as well as the products he endorses.

“It’s not about the product,” O’Neal said. “It’s about making them laugh. And, hopefully, in turn by you laughing, it will make you remember Icy Hot.”

After some laughter at that statement, O’Neal said, “For all you people that don’t think I fit in a Buick, I fit in a Buick.”

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Shaquille O’Neal played for the Magic, Lakers, Heat, Suns, Cavaliers and Celtics during his 19-year NBA career. Mark Duncan AP

Some basketball-related items from O’Neal’s visit included:

  • Calling Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who is playing his final NBA season, one of the two best guards to ever play.
  • His inspiration behind calling for his six children to have two degrees to receive future inheritance stemmed from his Heat playing days. He saw Nick Arison, son of owner Micky Arison, starting at the bottom by picking up laundry in the locker room after getting a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Duke.
  • Even though the NBA has turned into a perimeter-shooting and guard-centric game now, Shaq said he would still dominate if he played in the current era.

O’Neal, who has reinvented himself and is a top media personality with his hilarious Shaqtin’ A Fool series as part of TNT’s “Inside the NBA” show, unveiled various comedic moments that drew several loud laughs on Wednesday.

They included:

  • O’Neal explained what happened when Charles Barkley called him the other day. O’Neal told him he was going to Sarasota. “He says to me, make sure you bring me some of that back. ... He said, ‘Yeah, make sure you bring me some Sara-sota. ... And he was serious!”
  • O’Neal said he was driving from Valdosta, Georgia, to Orlando one day and a cop pulled him over for speeding. But the cop was amazed O’Neal did, in fact, fit in a Buick and let him go with a warning.
  • His craziest story was when he bought two Ferrari sports cars, cut them in half, stretched them out and super-glued them together so he could fit. He said it was a terrible business decision.
Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.