How do you help the Big Aristotle celebrate the Big 3-3? If you're Shaquille O'Neal's wife, Shaunie, you throw a surprise birthday bash at South Beach's swank Hotel Victor. On March 4, two days before his special day, the Heat center was feted by 300 of his closest friends, including Alonzo Mourning, Donald Trump, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Jeremy Shockey and serial partier Tara Reid. Shaq blew out the candles on a $16,000 cake, a six-foot replica of himself, and was presented with a $100,000 platinum and diamond Superman necklace from Shaunie (above, with Shaq). He also received a year of Texas hold 'em lessons with reigning World Series of Poker champ Greg Raymer from party cosponsor PokerStars.com.
‚ñ† He's an accomplished hat stomper and dirt kicker, but now it can be told: Poor footwork cost Lou Piniella a college diploma. The Devil Rays' manager came within a few credits of graduating from the University of Tampa with a business degree during his playing days. The course that tripped him up: square dancing, which he failed. "I never showed up for the final," Piniella admitted last week. "I studied all night for a zoology exam and was too tired to go to square dancing. I thought I could get a D. That was it. I never went back."
‚ñ† The Greyhound bus station in Miami was the site of a long-awaited family reunion last Thursday when Tigers outfielder Alex Sanchez, who hadn't seen his family since fleeing Cuba 11 years ago, greeted his mother, Mercedes, and younger brother Jorge. "Other than my two boys and my wife, this is the best thing to happen to me," Sanchez said. Three weeks ago Mercedes and Jorge escaped from Cuba by boat; after 41/2 days at sea they arrived in Mexico. They were released from a refugee camp in Texas on March 9, and though Sanchez offered to buy them plane tickets from San Antonio to Miami, where the 28-year-old and his wife, Giovanna, have a six-bedroom house, Jorge and Mercedes rode the bus for the final 1,400-mile leg of their journey. "[My mom] told me she wanted to see the cities," says Sanchez, who returned to Tigers camp in Lakeland, Fla., last Saturday.
‚ñ† Usually people like to see R&B star Usher grab the mike, but the Orlando Magic would rather the newest member of the Cavaliers' ownership team sit down and be quiet at Gund Arena. During the second quarter of Cleveland's game against the Magic on March 8, Usher took to the P.A. system and guaranteed a victory for the home team. "I'm going to burn all his CDs when I get home," Magic forward Dwight Howard said after the Cavs' 111--92 win.
‚ñ† Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins contributed a rap song for the album O Say Can You Sing, a compilation of works by major league players that will hit stores on May 1. (The proceeds will go to charity.) Rollins called his cousin Siriso, a rapper, to help with the lyrics. "[He's] my collabro, as they call it in the music business," Rollins said.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
A former high school track coach in Oregon was disciplined for allegedly licking blood from an athlete's injury.
They Said It
Former heavyweight champ, on being invited to the San Remo Song Festival in Italy: "I have no idea why they invited me. Maybe it's because I'm a music lover."