Searching seemingly in vain for cleats large enough to fit his size 22 feet during the past four months, Brian Easterling now has someone helping him who knows just a little about big feet. And reality TV. And rap. And, of course, basketball.
Shaquille O’Neal called the Statesboro Herald Tuesday after reading a Tweet about the Statesboro man’s quest to find a pair of size 22 cleats so he can play semi-pro football.
“Yeah, I read the big man had trouble finding big shoes,” O’Neal said. “I can help with that.”
Easterling was featured in a story in Tuesday’s Statesboro Herald. He is a 6’7”, 380-pound lineman who is practicing with the East Georgia Rebels team getting ready for the start of the season in June. And while he can practice in his sneakers, he can’t find a pair of cleats big enough that will give him the traction he would need as a lineman in a game situation.
Easterling, 26, said he hasn’t played organized football since middle school, but he wanted to get back on the field. He said he thought he would start practicing and find the cleats he would need along the way. But, several months later, he’s had no luck even finding a lead about where to find size 22 cleats.
That is until one of the most famous athletes in the world called. Easterling, however, didn’t believe it when Herald reporter Jeff Harrison first told him Shaq called and wanted to help.
“Whatever, man,” he said. “I don’t believe that.”
After a little convincing, he started to believe. “That was really Shaq? How did he find out?”
After reading the story on statesboroherald.com, Herald webmaster Tim Webb was pretty confident he knew who could help. Webb said he is a regular follower of Shaq on Twitter and he tagged him in a Tweet to @THE REAL SHAQ:
“Hey Shaq, think you can help this kid out w/ some size 22 cleats!!!”
Webb also included a link to the story on the Herald website.
“I knew Shaq would respond,” Webb said. “It’s the type of thing he does.”
So, late Tuesday morning, Harrison, who wrote the story about Easterling, received an email that said:
“This is shaq call my guy dan garcia about the shoes for bigman Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T.”
Harrison wasn’t sure if it was a prank or the real thing. But less than a minute after leaving a message on Garcia’s phone, it became clear it was no prank. Garcia called back and immediately handed the phone to O’Neal, who, answering the question, “Is this really Shaq?” responded in his unmistakable voice: “Yeah, this is Shaq.
“I was on Twitter. And somebody sent me a Tweet with the story ‘Big feet, big problem,” he said. “I read the article and sent the email to jharrison. Whatever the guy needs, Dan will take care of it.”
Garcia, who O’Neal called his personal assistant, said Shaq often reaches out to people.
“If he thinks he can help, then he will,” Garcia said.
Easterling, meanwhile, is still trying to absorb the idea that Shaquille O’Neal is going to help him find his size 22 cleats.
“I’m excited. It’s been a surreal experience. I am trying to keep a level head about it,” he said. “This is an experience people do not normally get.”
He said he was thinking about not paying team dues to the Rebels this week, because he didn’t see how he could compete without the cleats. Now, he said, he will make the payment under the assumption he will find proper shoes.
“Right now, I believe it, but at same time don’t believe it,” he said. “I don’t want to get overly excited. I’m staying calm.”
O’Neal, who currently is in the 19th year of one of the greatest careers in NBA history, is recovering from an injury that has sidelined him from the Boston Celtics since February. He hopes to return for a run at a fifth championship ring when the Celtics start the playoffs next month.
In the meantime, he keeps up with Twitter and Brian Easterling is glad he does.
“You don’t have to (write a story about what I’m doing),” Shaq said. “That’s not why I did it. But if you want to do it, just make sure it’s on the front page!”
Herald reporter Jeff Harrison contributed to this story.
James Healy can be reached at (912) 489-9402.