NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal stopped by his Big Chicken restaurant in Valencia on Saturday.
O’Neal took photos with hundreds of fans and his Big Chicken employees but still had time to talk about life, his business ventures and his efforts to give back to the community.
“We just like to make people happy and make people smile,” O’Neal said. “We’ve always done a lot in the community, seen or unseen, but we just want to continue to give back.”
O’Neal’s Saturday is a typically hectic one, with multiple events planned before the DJ takes the stage at Hard Summer, a music festival in Los Angeles.
“Oh, today is busy,” O’Neal said. “I gotta do this, something else later then I got a show tonight. It’s good to be back home in L.A. and just come hang out with the people.”
O’Neal quickly took photos with fans who waited in a line that stretched nearly half a mile outside the restaurant. One fan waiting was Valencia Vikings forward Bryce Bedgood, who was pulled up by the former Laker for a quick chat.
“He waved me over, first thing he said was, ‘Listen to your dad,’” Bedgood said. “’If he tells you to run 10 laps, run 20.’ He said a lot of motivational stuff and asked about college recruitment.”
Bedgood is entering his senior year at Valencia, already with a CIF and state championship on his resume with father and head coach Bill Bedgood. The two were hoping to just get a photo with the Laker legend but instead got a full conversation with their hero.
“We were outside talking when he came in and I filmed him,” Bryce said. “As I was filming him, I saw he was trying to shake my hand. I was thinking, ‘I’m about to dap up Shaq.’ That was insane.”
Valencia Big Chicken owners Andy and Christina Giti didn’t get much of a heads up the chain’s founder was coming but made sure to get everything ready on short notice for their community.
“It was very exciting getting the news,” Andy said. “We got it with very short notice. We didn’t know he was coming that long ago so today’s not a big planned event but we are super excited and we just made it happen.”
The two owners have faced a lot of doubts, saying O’Neal wasn’t coming in any time soon, but held on to hope that the legend could find the time.
“I was just talking to the chamber (of commerce) about this and they said we haven’t had an event like this ever,” Christina said. “Finally the day is here and we’re very excited to be able to bring this to the community. He took time out of his busy schedule to come visit Valencia.”
The surprise visit could very well lead to more business for Big Chicken but the Gitis downplayed the potential rise in customers, stating that Saturday was all about the visit.
“For today, it’s all about Shaquille and the community,” Andy said. “We hope people want to try our food down the road and that our repeat clients will continually support Big Chicken and the local food that we offer.”
O’Neal is known for his hall of fame career on the basketball court but has always been considered one of the most generous celebrities of his time, through his work with the Shaquille O’Neal Foundation and other efforts.
“I was going into it hoping to get a picture with him,” Bryce Bedgood said. “But there’s no way I just had a conversation with the guy, it’s unreal. He took time out of his whole thing to talk with me. That’s amazing.”