On Super Bowl LIV weekend in Miami, Shaquille O’Neal paid tribute to his former Lakers teammate, Kobe Bryant, while spinning on the ones and twos at one of the biggest pre-game events in town.
“If you love Kobe Bryant put your hands up!” O’Neal yelled to a sea of adrenaline-filled party-goers as they jumped up and down to his ear-piercing techno DJ-mix.
The thousands of people who packed the carnival-themed venue, some sporting O’Neal or Bryant basketball jerseys, forked over at least $200 each to experience Shaq’s Fun House at the Mana Wynwood Convention Center near downtown Miami.
All of the proceeds of the star-studded night will be donated to the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation to support the families affected by the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others.
O’Neal said he debated whether to host the party in the wake of his close friend’s death, but decided to move forward. “Kobe would want us to push through and celebrate life,” he wrote on Instagram.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Ken Marshall, 27, of Los Angeles told TheGrio. “That’s actually one of the reasons why I chose this event. Not only is this something to do, but the proceeds are going to a good cause.”
But others like Jakeita Days, known as “Flyyy Tatted Sky” on VH1’s Black Ink Crew: Chicago, had no idea the adult-only event held a touching, worthy purpose.
“Are you serious? That just made my heart smile,” she said in an interview with TheGrio. “That’s a blessing. God is good. Shaq is an amazing man. This is an amazing event and it’s a pleasure for me to even be a part of it a little bit. Being here means a lot to me.”
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Shaq enlisted a top lineup of performers to take center stage, including Pit Bull, Diddy, DaBaby, Tiesto, Diplo, and Carnage. Diddy produced a rousing video tribute to Kobe featuring “I’ll Be Missing You,” the song he performed with Faith Evans and originally dedicated to his close friend, the late Notorious B.I.G.
“Something or somebody got to inspire me,” Diddy told the audience. “And when I feel like giving up, I swear to God, the only person that pops into my head is Kobe shooting in the gym… is Kobe coming in early, leaving later… is Kobe playing [while] hurt.”
A gold and purple banner bearing the jersey number 8 and 24 for Kobe hung from the ceiling in the concert hall, where the audience raised their lighted cell phone in their honor. Meanwhile, on the other side of the venue, the crowd enjoyed unlimited carnival food, games, and rides.
“I think it’s live,” said Dion Sims, 28, a recently retired NFL tight end who started his career with the Miami Dolphins and ended it with the Chicago Bears. “It’s good how Shaq put all this together. It’s all his imagination. This being the Super Bowl, I think it’s a fun experience.”
Shaq’s popular event, which has popped up in cities such as Atlanta, attracted tons of sponsors—from luxury vehicles to top-shelf liquor brands to fast-food restaurants. Shaq was on hand to debut a new product that Papa John’s will officially launch the day after the Super Bowl.
“When Shaquille was in our test kitchen and he tried the Papadias, he was like ‘you got to serve this at the Fun House because it’s easy to carry about and eat,’” said Melissa Richards-Person, SVP of Branding for Papa John’s.
DeeDee Sharpton, of Orlando, won tickets to Shaq’s Fun House in a radio contest. She said she was overwhelmed by the entire evening, which provided both joy and comfort to all who attended.
“My prayers go out to Kobe and his family,” said Sharpton. “We got much love for Kobe Bryant. He’s the GOAT. He’s the real GOAT.”