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The Big Raven: Basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal appears in Empire High School's PSA video
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The Big Raven: Basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal appears in Empire High School's PSA video

Shaquille O'Neal appeared on Empire High School's latest PSA video to encourage students to social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Big Raven? The Big Empire? 

Former NBA star and basketball icon Shaquille O'Neal appeared in Empire High School's latest public service announcement video encouraging students to constantly monitor distance around others, wear face masks and consistently wash hands during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Make sure you listen to all your teachers," O'Neal said. "And tell your mom and dad that you love them when you get home, alright? Talk to you soon!" 

How did one of the most recognizable figures in the sports world find time aside from his in-studio duties for the NBA playoffs on TNT and other commercials to record a video for a Vail high school? Empire english teacher and junior-varsity basketball coach James Sye's brother, Albert, works for Forto Coffee in Atlanta — a brand that O'Neal endorses.

"I was like, 'Can you get him on the video?'" James said. "I didn't think he was gonna be able to do it but he did it, and I think that's cool. ... I was really thankful, because I know he's super busy." 

In the video, O'Neal is shown donning a gray Empire t-shirt — or so it appears. Empire's digital team embossed the EHS logo on his shirt to make it look like he was wearing a Shaq-sized Ravens shirt.

O'Neal's appearance was brief, but it was a surreal accomplishment for Sye.

"We grew up idolizing Shaq and now that my brother is working with him, it's weird," Sye said. "I was really happy that he was able to do it.

"Got the kids to pay attention, that was the main goal." 

Contact sports content producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or jspears@tucson.com. On Twitter @justinesports

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Sports producer

Justin writes stories and produces digital content about UA football and basketball and high school football. A Tucson native, Justin graduated from the UA in 2017 and is the host of the Wildcast Podcast and a radio host on ESPN Tucson.

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