Shaquille O’Neal celebrates New Year in Cd’A

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Courtesy photo Former NBA All-Star Shaquille O’Neal plays beer pong late New Year’s Eve at Mik’s in downtown Coeur d’Alene.

Sweat pants tucked into his snow boots, Shaquille O’Neal stepped to a jukebox at The Beacon Saturday afternoon, his pan-sized right hand scrolling through the menu.

To the disbelief of a few pre-funking patrons, the 7-foot-1, 375-pound man proceeded to fire off some aggressive air-guitar riffs to Three Days Grace’s “Never Too Late.”

Shaq, arguably the best big man in NBA history and one of the world’s most recognizable figures, was his typical animated and affable self.

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

On New Year’s Eve.

Roughly two weeks after the Lakers organization announced a date to unveil a statue of the 15-time All-Star, Big Aristotle could briefly be seen darting down Sherman Avenue when leaving the bar, likely evoking eye-rubs from locals.

It wasn’t clear why he was in the Lake City, often a celebrity hub in the summer months. Some said he owns a house near Gozzer. Others said he was just here to ski. I didn’t ask. I was several beers deep (hey, I was off the clock) when I saw the Diesel and figured he, like most household names who visit sleepy North Idaho, wanted to be left alone.

When Shaq returned to a packed Beacon around 11 p.m., though, he was met with an onslaught of cheers as he sported a purple and gold Lakers sweater, as if his giant stature wouldn’t garner enough attention in a bar stocked with 5-foot-something millennials.

This was as brazen as Matthew McConaughey grabbing the mic from an Ironhorse cover band member to say “alright, alright, alright,” or Chelsea Handler water-skiing topless on Lake Coeur d’Alene. One of those things actually happened.

Shaq embraced the downtown Cd’A ambiance and graciously mixed it up with those who approached him. Take a look at your Facebook feed and a mutual friend will likely be pictured with — and dwarfed by — the smiling 44-year-old, now an Inside the NBA analyst.

He spent most of the late evening at Mik’s, where he played beer pong and even got behind the DJ’s table while wearing a Batman T-shirt.

One of pop culture’s good guys was true to form in an unlikely place at an unlikely time.

•••

Ryan Collingwood is a Press reporter and former sports writer around the West.

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