Long Island pizza eaters got a 7-foot, 300-plus pound surprise Wednesday afternoon, when they walked into Abeetza Pizza in Greenvale and unexpectedly saw NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal crouching over a small table with an unfinished pepperoni pizza pie at his side.
After finishing his spaghetti and meatball and pizza lunch, Shaq walked behind the counter and took some pictures with the small pizzeria staff. Some of the cooks barely made it up to his chest as he towered over them, his head blocking several pasta selections on the oversized menu. Shaq signed basketballs and posed for pictures with families, forcing picture takers to take a couple of steps back so they wouldn’t cut him out of the picture.
“This is the best pizza place there is,” the four-time NBA champion told the Press. “Every time I’m in New York I come up [here]—Abeetza Pizza!”
Some customers caught wind of 15-time All Star’s appearance and quickly huddled up their kids so they wouldn’t miss out on their chance to meet the man who once dominated under the basket. A pair of teenagers sprinted in the heavy rain down Glen Cove Road equipped with a basketball and a sharpie, eager to have Shaq’s name tagged on their orange ball.
“It’s pretty cool,” said customer Jay Blacharski of Greenvale after his family snapped a picture with Shaq. “He’s a big guy, I didn’t think he was that big, you know, pretty exciting.” He added, “My kids were excited to see him, that’s why I brought them up here [when] my friend told me he was going to be up here.”
Joe DeLorenzo, owner of Abeetza Pizza, said he’s gotten to know Shaq over the past few years and has gone to a couple of games with him after meeting the now-retired basketball player through another friend. He’s even flown food down to Florida, just so Shaq can get a taste of Long Island pizza when he’s not in the area.
Throughout his career, Shaq has earned a reputation of being a charitable person, especially during the holiday season, when he visits toy stores to shop for underprivileged children.
“He’s everything you see on TV,” said DeLorenzo. “He’s just bigger than life and he’s a wonderful guy.”
And his favorite meal? “He has a lot of our food food, not so much our pizza,” the pizzeria owner said. “But he has pizza too occasionally, today he had pizza and spaghetti and meatballs. He has balsamic chicken and he has chicken marsala, rigatoni alla vodka, he eats a little bit of everything.”
When he was asked how much food Shaq eats, DeLorenzo smirked, shook his head, and quipped, “not as much as you would think, you know, cause he’s got to watch that beautiful figure he’s got.”