This is Blount County’s version of a Shaq attack.
Numerous reports of Shaquille O’Neal making the rounds in Blount County lately have him showing up in local eateries and even a Walmart.
At 7-foot-1 and 350 pounds, it’s kind of hard to miss him. Many local fans have posted their photos with the NBA star on Facebook.
Why is the newly signed Boston Celtics player suddenly being so public around here? O’Neal reportedly has been dating Blount County resident Nicole “Hoopz” Alexander, a former reality show contestant (from the VH1 shows “I Love Money” and "Flavor of Love"). More recent reports say O’Neal and Alexander became engaged less than a week ago in St. Louis.
Web reports say O’Neal and Alexander may be sharing a house together, possibly at the Royal Oak subdivision.
Interest is certainly building around East Tennessee as O’Neal becomes more public. He’s the topic of local morning radio talk shows. Local topics on the Internet are also buzzing about Shaq being around here.
+ O’Neal and Alexander showed up at Jet Pizza in Maryville and got a to-go order recently. Owner Mike Roberts says the place went crazy.
“My staff stopped working,” Roberts says. “People from the bar next door came over.”
Though O’Neal was only in the eatery a few minutes, he spent much of his time posing for photos and signing autographs.
+ On Saturday, O’Neal was seen at the Alcoa Walmart, a place he has frequented a few times this summer. None of the store’s staff approached him, but cell phone cameras were snapping. Alexander was with him there, too.
+ At The Roaming Gnome Pub and Eatery in Maryville in July, O’Neal took time for photos with employees.
+ O’Neal — who was on an organic diet in May, according to Sports Illustrated —has eaten a few meals at the Waffle House on Alcoa Highway.
He’s been to the diner a few times in recent weeks. Alexander is a frequent customer there. When he and Alexander dined there last week, he ate six scrambled eggs with cheese, two waffles and a cheese omelette, says Ton Bradley, Waffle House district manager.
O’Neal is a good tipper. He left $50 for his $20 meal.
Only one customer asked O’Neal for a photo. Employees of the Waffle House approached him one at a time for photos and autographs. He signed mugs at the restaurant, too.
“I told my employees I didn’t mind them asking him (for photos or an autograph), but they had to do it one at a time,” Bradley says.
“He was just there to have a good time.”
© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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