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Shaq a no-show for celebrity game

Tampa Bay was ready for a weekend with a three-time NBA champion. But when the Los Angeles Lakers center, Shaquille O’Neal, didn’t attend a series of charity events, fans weren’t the only ones who lost their money.

The 7-foot-1 basketball star signed a $50,000 contract to host a series of charity events, which were promoted by Paramount Celebrity Management said Darryl Madison, the chief operating officer. But the events continued without O’Neal and without explanation of where he was or if he plans to return the money.

Los Angeles Lakers representatives stated that O’Neal was hospitalized in Orlando for a 103-degree fever on Thursday night but was released on Friday.

“We’re still trying to find that out,” Madison said. “Of course we would want (the money) back- he didn’t show.”

But according to the St. Petersburg Times, Madison has a history of mishandling finances, including charges of fraudulent use of identification to obtain loans.

And the celebrity weekend turned up a familiar past for Madison, who is responsible for unpaid bills and has stirred up fans seeking refunds.

A dinner fundraiser on Aug. 16 with NBA professionals and Gov. Jeb Bush was supposed to be the beginning of a weekend with O’Neal. Guests paid $150 per plate to benefit Tampa Bay Reads, a non-profit organization that supports literacy programs.

Madison was responsible to pay for reservations at the Tampa Waterside Marriott for the charity dinner said Bob Stewart, director of marketing for the Marriott.

Stewart said Madison gave a $5,000 deposit, which was cleared, but the promoter still owes the Marriott $15,000. Stewart said he is not sure whether the Marriott will take legal action if the payment is not received.

“We’re definitely talking about a lot of money,” Stewart said. “But it’s really hard to say at this point. We have to decide whether it’s cost effective to try and get that money back or leave it as it is.”

Then parents paid up to $250 for their children to attend a two-day youth basketball clinic presented by O’Neal, which was held at the USF Sun Dome Aug. 17. And on the second night children were guaranteed a seat at the Ice Palace, where O’Neal was supposed to headline a celebrity all-star game.

The general public, who wanted to meet with celebrities before the game at the Ice Palace, paid $250 for a VIP meet-and-greet pass. However, when celebrities did not show for the pre-game autograph session, Bill Wickett, vice president of public relations for the Ice Palace, said Madison informed the Ice Palace not to give fans refunds.

“He was hinting that maybe something could be worked out later that evening,” Wickett said. ” But we knew it was the right thing to do to give these people their money back.”

From the 2,500 that attended the game, Wickett said about 100 tickets were reimbursed, including a couple dozen VIP ticket holders, who were given partial refunds.

Wickett said an undisclosed amount of money was required from Madison to rent the venue for the game but the Ice Palace has only received a $5,000 deposit.

“We aren’t sure if he’s going to end up owing us money,” Wickett said. “We are still going to have people contesting refunds with their credit cards, so until we work out a settlement we won’t know.”

Attorney Ronald D. Cook sued Paramount for about $2,200 that was owed in legal services after the weekend events.

Madison did not return phone calls seeking comment on the payments he owes.

Wickett said no official notification was given to the Ice Palace that O’Neal would not attend the game. Wickett said the Ice Palace received a copy of the contract from Madison, which was signed by a representative for O’Neal.

Representatives for O’Neal did not return messages to comment on the contract.

Wickett said an autograph session for VIP members was held after the game with the celebrities including the Toronto Raptors’ Vince Carter and former Orlando Magic forward Derek Strong.

Teresa Rivera came from Bradenton with her VIP ticket and waited along with 40 people along the courtside after the game for her chance to meet with players. As she sat with her basketball, recently signed by Carter, in her lap, she said O’Neal wasn’t her main purpose for attending the game.

“I’m an old time Lakers fan,” Rivera said. “But I just wanted to see the basketball game and make my donation to charity.”

However she said other fans weren’t as forgiving as her that O’Neal was a no-show.

“I saw about five people who were very disgruntled,” Rivera said.

By half time, children in Lakers jerseys and basketball shorts could be seen walking with their parents to the parking lots. But those who remained saw Carter as the highlight of the game when he made five slam dunks in the fourth quarter for the blue team.

Carter led his team with 44 points against the gold team to win 105-98. At the end of the game Carter was rushed off the court by security as fans began swarming him for autographs.

Dedicated basketball fans waited about 45 minutes after the game with magazines and shirts in hand for Carter, Strong and other celebrities to sign.

Rivera said although it would have been nice to see O’Neal, she was thankful to see the other celebrities still made an appearance for those who enjoy the sport.

“Is he a big player? Sure,” Rivera said. “But I’m just an all round basketball kinda gal.”


Contact Grace Agostin at oraclegrace@yahoo.com