School officials in southwest China have been slammed for confiscating basketballs that NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal signed and gave to four teenage boys, state press said yesterday.
The 2.16m center distributed the basketballs to the students on Tuesday while visiting a region in Sichuan Province that was hit by a devastating earthquake in May last year, the China Daily reported.
School officials in Mianyang City later took the balls, resulting in a confrontation with the families of the teenagers, it said.
“I never thought it would be like this,” the paper quoted Shaq as saying. “I can imagine how disappointed the boys must be.”
The Cleveland Cavalier center signed four more balls and saw to it that they were delivered to the four boys, the paper said.
“I want to tell them that I like them, and I don’t want them to cry over this,” O’Neal said.
In an online survey by Xinhua news agency, 90 percent of 3,200 people polled said the school “had no right to confiscate O’Neal’s gifts to the students.”
Online comments accused the officials of taking the balls so they could give them to their own children, an accusation the school denied, the report said.
They insisted the balls were going to be used as exhibits for the school.