The Hunting Shaq That time I went hog hunting with NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal
Written BY: Michael James Nelson
***Before we begin, I’d like to give you a little context for this story. I wrote an essay for National Lampoon’s website in 2004. It was the first “thing” I’d ever written and sold and the fact that National Lampoon published it was a huge honor for me. I was also only a year out of college and hungry for any recognition and professional approval. My voice has changed so much since then – as has my writing abilities – but it’s such a fun story I thought I’d share it with you. Enjoy!
At some point in your life, you will get to meet your favorite celebrity. And for some of you, with your bomber jacket, disturbingly tight designer jeans, and imported hair care products, your celebrity story might even get you laid. For me, it happened in 1993 when I was an undersized seventh grader. At the time, the most famous person I had ever met was local radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge. He visited my middle school and at the time, he was so overweight that when he popped up through the sunroof of his limousine to wave goodbye, he got stuck. As the limousine drove away, he continued to wave, acting like he wasn’t stuck. But we knew he was stuck. He must have waved the entire mile before the road took a sharp right turn out of view.
A year after that “girth gate,” I came home to the most unbelievable message on my mother’s answering machine. I couldn’t believe it! The message was from a family friend inviting me to go hog hunting with Orlando Magic superstar center Shaquille O’Neal. After that message I was, to say the very least, EXCITED!
When I arrived at the hunting camp a week later, I could feel the redneck rays omitted from every motor home, broken down car, and dip-spit cup on the property. It was a peaceful place. A slow place. A place where weather patterns coincided with knee pain and concepts like Wi-Fi and toilet paper were told with great mystery around tire fires. It all fit together like one tranquil puzzle, until… THUMP! “Wait a minute, that wasn’t right,” I said to myself as I scanned the horizon. THUMP! “What the…?” That dominating sound interrupted the flow of peace again. THUMP! What was that? It got closer and closer and then I finally realized the source of the thump.
A couple of luxury cars and an SUV broke the undergrowth and slowly crept towards camp. The sub-woofers installed in the slick-looking machines floated only the freshest of beats. I stared at the tinted windows trying to get a glimpse inside only to see my reflection, a small white boy with a tucked-in Orlando Magic shirt, jean shorts, and a bowl cut. Time stopped as the caravan of hip-hop tracks and bling pierced a world coated with restricted views and rust. The caravan came to a halt along with the music. There was absolute silence as both worlds felt each other out.
Suddenly, the door of the SUV swung open, and out stepped Shaquille O’Neal. He was wearing fatigues, black Reebok pumps, and a black hood over his head. He was massive! Shaq slowly scanned this new world of scruffy white men and flannel. Then, like a commander of a hidden army, he turned and signaled to the luxury cars. Suddenly, Shaq’s entourage emptied out. They were not the freshly dressed, iced-out “soldiers” you’d expect from an NBA superstar. No Shaq’s entourage was the whitest, lamest posse I could ever imagine – agents, accountants, and lawyers. The Yiddish expressions flowed like the finest Manischewitz.
We stood around for a while and got to know the big guy. He was fresh off an NBA suspension for punching a Detroit Pistons player in the face, so I kept my distance. And when he grabbed me, placed his fist on my cheek, and playfully said, “Drum punch. This is where I punched the guy,” I feared I may have to reinstate the use of diapers into my life. We eventually grabbed our gear, loaded the trucks, and headed out looking like a bunch of ragtag misfits determined to win the regatta.
To be a seven-foot athlete with a three-hundred-pound bench press puts a damper on your hunting. And having size twenty-two shoes crashing on the forest floor is like a burst of tourettes at Wimbledon right before the serve. Everything about Shaq is loud. His looks, his size, even his whisper. Shaq’s whisper smacked everyone in the face, alerted every animal within a thirty-mile radius, and even knocked up one of the guy’s daughters. We explored the property for a couple of hours and realized that the thick Central Florida humidity was forcing all of the hogs into the shady depths of the woods. Finally, we spotted a family of hogs trotting across a field. Shaq positioned himself on the other side of the truck and the redneck elder threw in his words of approval and encouragement, “There ya go now, get ‘er done.”
At first, Shaq held a gun like a man who had never held a baby. It was awkward and the gun’s safety was all you could think about. Shaq finally got the gun into position and concentrated down the barrel at the family of hogs, but it was too late. They spotted us and ran out of range. We kept on. The day crept forward in a very relaxed and laidback manner with everyone not expecting any action. People cased up their guns, sat back, and enjoyed the view. Not Shaq. He was ready. In his mind, you could tell he was running through different scenarios paralleling a down-to-the-wire game mentality. Sitting in the back of the pick-up, gun ready, Shaq knew we would need a strong fourth quarter to make this day a success. The sun was low, the bugs were rousing, and the energy of the day was slowly drifting away. Then, like an explosive dunk, it rocked the group out of limbo. A piercing shout: “Hogs!”
I clocked a group of hogs running toward a watering hole. Everyone jumped into position with a lot of excitement. At first, I thought Shaq was doing snow angels, being attacked by bees, and posting up in the bed of the pickup truck. But then I realized he was having trouble sitting up and getting into position to fire. When he finally did, everyone had at it. It was a free-for-all. From the amount of shooting, I expected to see Paul Revere haul ass over the hill with the British army in hot pursuit. But pot edibles weren’t readily available back then. After the smoke cleared, I saw our pathetic result: three hogs downed.
Despite mediocre results, the attack was still considered a success in our circle. Three dead hogs are more than zero dead hogs. I’m a math savant so no need to run the numbers. In celebration, Shaq grabbed a small Magnum and started firing at an Armadillo running by the truck. No dice. Not even close. But like the true champion, he regrouped, reenergized, and focused his attention on the fruits of a successful hunt.
The sun was setting and everyone prepared to head home. Shaq signed some of my cards, my basketball, took a photo, and climbed into the SUV. As the cars disappeared, I waved them one last goodbye. I turned around, kicked a rock, and collected my thoughts. Images of Bubba the Love Sponge wedged into a limousine’s sunroof had been replaced with Shaquille O’Neal firing a Magnum at an Armadillo. I then smiled and said to myself…
“Man, I hope this gets me laid.”