James Shaw Jr. didn't expect to become a hero when he walked into a local Waffle House. Content to chill with a good friend, have some food and head home, he found himself thrust into a situation he couldn't have imaged when gunman Travis Reinking opened fire in the Nashville restaurant, killing four people in the process.
Shaw Jr., who is quick to discount his actions, reacted in the only way he knew how. After realizing that shots were being fired, Shaw Jr. ran toward the bathroom and out of harms way. When he spotted an opportunity to take the gun away from Reinking, he put his life on the line and saved so many others.
"I was waiting for an opportunity, and either the gun jammed or he was trying to reload and that's when I ran out there and listened to the voice that told me to just do it," Shaw Jr. says. "And I tackled him, we wrestled for the gun, I sustained second-degree burns to my right hand that have now completely healed, and finally got the gun from him." After securing the weapon, Shaw Jr. tossed the gun out of reach, pushed himself and the shooter outside the establishment and ran away from Reinking, who was later found after a 34-hour manhunt.
An event that could have ended Shaw Jr.'s life ended up changing it. The moment turned Shaw Jr. into an Internet sensation, as people pined to find out more about the man who acted so bravely in the face of grave danger. There were appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and interviews on CNN, but Shaw Jr.'s longest lasting connection came with the NBA. Shaw Jr. forged a relationship with Heat star Dwyane Wade, who was brought on as a surprise guest during Shaw Jr.'s appearance on Ellen. That led to a burgeoning friendship, a trip to the All-Star Weekend festivities in Charlotte and even an appearance in the All-Star Weekend celebrity game. Shaw Jr., who played alongside Quavo, Ray Allen and Bad Bunny in Charlotte, has grown close enough with Wade to joke about who has better style.
Shaw Jr., who played basketball in high school, was hoping to bring home MVP but that didn't quite happen. He instead played a support role and posted a respectable eight points and two assists that weekend, tossing an assist to Ray Allen at one point in the game. That experience is one that will last with him for a lifetime, and Wade was happy to facilitate it. Shaw Jr. had put the full-court press on Wade prior to February, sending videos of himself on the court and sending direct messages to the NBA's Instagram account.
"James and I have remained in touch since I went on the show," Wade told Sports Illustrated. "We have a shared passion with fashion and often joke with one another who looks better. It makes me feel such great joy that I was able to arrange for James to play at the All-Star Celebrity game."
The two made plans to meet in Charlotte, but their relationship won't end there. Shaw Jr. received support from Wade's foundation and can hit his new friend over the phone at any time. And while he was excited to meet Wade, the 16-year NBA veteran was just as thrilled to build a relationship and show gratitude to Shaw Jr.
"James is incredibly heroic and it was the least I could do to show him support for his courageous actions," Wade said. "I was thrilled to donate additional funds from my foundation to help support and reinforce his efforts. James is someone that the rest of the world should look up to for his heroism."
The events of Apr. 22, 2018, added a lot of positives to Shaw Jr.'s life, but not everything following his act of heroism was perfect. A lot of focus has been given to his quick decision, but in the period that police were still hunting for Reinking, Shaw Jr. was watched over by officers and stayed in close contact with friends to make sure they were safe. "It was unnerving to have him still out there," Shaw Jr. said.
In the days that followed he heard from media members and NBA stars, but he also talked to the people he saved. Shaw Jr. was invited to the home of a survivor named Mike Garth, a military man who praised Shaw Jr.'s efforts. "He had me come over his house and he had his whole family over there. He wanted to thank me; he wanted to show me what I did. He said it could have been a lot different situation if I had not been there. His kids were at the house, his mom was there and they welcomed me with open arms and still do. I know now not to take what I did for granted and it's definitely a blessing for him to say something like that."
Things are different now for Shaw Jr., who has an assistant and sometimes has trouble going to the grocery store in Nashville without garnering attention. But while so much has changed, Shaw Jr.'s determination and will to live remain the same. That much was evident as he reflected on Apr. 22. "If he was going to kill me he was going to have to work for it," Shaw Jr. said. "I'm not trying to boast or brag, but I'm glad I did what I did. I wasn't going to go down easy. And I still won't go down easy."