Shaquille O'Neal, the most colorful NBA player ever, has 3.8 million fans on his Twitter account.
That's more people than some countries have.
The voluminous center called it quits June 1 after a 19-year career featuring four championship rings, 15 All-Star appearances, 28,596 points and such nicknames as The Big Shamrock, The Big Cactus, Shaq Fu, Superman, The Diesel, The Big Aristotle and, finally, The Big AARP.
O'Neal had it all as a sports celebrity: skill, size, showmanship, playfulness, charisma and marketing.
Matt Nover, a 1988 Chesterton grad, witnessed the gentle giant's playing career taking off.
Nover was the starting center on the Indiana team that lost to eventual national champion Duke in the 1992 Final Four semifinals. Along the way, IU beat O'Neal's LSU squad 89-79 in the second round.
"I'm kinda known for being like the Dan Dakich who shut down Michael Jordan although I think Dakich was a little more effective at actually shutting Jordan down," Nover said, tongue in cheek.
"Everybody says I 'held' Shaq down and I think what I 'held' him to was about 34 points and 15 rebounds. But it was definitely his last college game because we won that game."
O'Neal finished with 36 points on 12-of-18 shooting, was 12-for-12 at the line, and had 12 rebounds.
Nover had 13 points and two boards for the Hoosiers, whose roster featured Damon Bailey, Eric Anderson, Calbert Cheaney and Alan Henderson.
"If he ever shot free throws like that in the NBA, he would've scored 5,000 or 10,000 more points," Nover said of Shaq, a career 53-percent shooter.
It was the Nover's workhorse nature that IU coach Bob Knight admired most about his game. Shaquille O'Neal was just one more huge challenge at 7-foot-1, 325 pounds and with a size 23 shoe.
"That year, we played against the 'Fab Five' and I had to guard Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. We played against Acie Earl, who was the big guy at iowa. I had to guard him," Nover said. "There was Mike Peplowski at Michigan State and he was 6-10.
"But none of 'em had the size and athleticism of Shaq. He was immovable. From block to block, he ruled the paint. I was guarding him and he threw me around like a rag doll."
Two years later, Nover and O'Neal were reunited for the filming of "Blue Chips," which had a $9 million budget and grossed $22,355,000.
In the movie, both were the prized recruits of corrupted Western University coach Pete Bell, played by Nick Nolte.
O'Neal's character was Neon Boudeaux, given a new Lexus to sign by "friends of the program" and Nover was farm boy Ricky Roe, whose father got a new tractor and a bag full of cash.
Jim Boeheim, Kevin Garnett, Dick Vitale, Nolan Richardson, Larry Bird, Rick Fox, Calbert Cheaney, Keith Smart, Matt Painter, Bob Cousy, Penny Hardaway, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian and Bob Knight were among the notable cast.
"That's when I really got to know Shaq," Nover said. "We spent a lot of time together. He was a jokester, a prankster, a clown. He loved to have fun all the time.
"He was real open and nice with everybody. He was just coming off being NBA Rookie of the Year and an All-Star. But it's true what they say about him. He's really fun to be around."
Shaq was a media dream and he knew it.
"I saw him do an interview the other night and he said he was really conscious about his size and height as a kid," Nover said. "His dad just told him to make people around you happy. Don't let them be intimidated or scared."
Nover played 12 productive seasons overseas in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Japan and Australia. An NBA career just wasn't in the cards.
He had three summer league tryouts with the Charlotte Hornets and Denver Nuggets but admits he was a "tweener" without a knock-down 3-point shot, and that hurt him.
"I had to battle inside and being 6-7, 6-8, is pretty undersized in the NBA without having crazy long arms and an unbelievable vertical," Nover said.
He currently works as a district manager for Bloomington-based Cook Medical.
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