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North Dakota's Brown, Shaq go way back

FARGO -- Back in the 1940s, Dale Brown lived in poverty in Minot, N.D. - where he will always remember welfare workers harassing his mother.

Today in an affluent subdivision of Orlando, Fla., the 75-year-old Brown will step into the 52,000-square foot, lakeside mansion of Shaquille O'Neal.

In the same neighborhood where Tiger Woods lives, O'Neal will hold a news conference to finalize his retirement from the NBA. Brown will be one of the numerous guests Shaq considers his close friends.

"Shaq is one of the most benevolent human beings I've ever met in my life," Brown said. "He may look like King Kong, but really he is a Bambi inside."

Brown, of course, was the head basketball coach at Louisiana State University where Shaq played for three years before forgoing his senior year and signing a $40 million contract with the Orlando Magic.

Since then, Shaq has played for the Lakers, Heat, Suns, Cavs and Celtics. He ends his 19-year NBA career with 15 All-Star Game appearances and four NBA championship rings.

But Brown's relationship with Shaq began long before his road to the Hall of Fame.

Brown, already a successful coach at LSU, had just finished speaking to some U.S. military troops in Germany back in the early 1980s.

"Afterwards I feel this tap on my shoulder," Brown recalled. "I turn around and see this 6-foot-9, 250-pound neatly dressed kid. He said 'Coach, can I bother you?'"

Shaq asked Brown if he knew of any exercises that could help him dunk the basketball. Brown jotted down some advice and said:

"Soldier, you do these things and I will keep in touch with you," Brown said.

"Coach Brown," Shaq said. "I'm not in the army. I'm only 13 years old."

Brown quickly met the military man who was Shaq's father. He was more concerned about his son's education than his basketball career.

Two months later, Shaq wrote Brown telling him he had been cut from his high school basketball team. Brown, whose father walked out on his family two days before he was born, prescribed the attitude that helped him scratch and claw to the top.

"The philosophy is simple," Brown said of what he wrote back to Shaq. "If you always try to do your very best and never give up, God will eventually do something good for you."

Shaq became a high school All-American in San Antonio. He became a two-time All-American for Brown at LSU.

And as one of the biggest guys to ever play in the NBA, the 7-foot-1, 330 pound Shaq -- with his size-23 shoes -- ended up with 28,596 points (fifth all-time) and 13,099 rebounds.

Brown will always remember Shaq as the guy who mingled and joked around with other students. He'll remember Shaq returning to LSU in 2000 to get his bachelor of arts degree. Since then, he has acquired a masters degree and is close to a doctorate.

Brown, the man who grew up without a father, recalls all this like a proud dad.

"I remember Shaq came into my office one day and said, 'I'm going to adopt you. You are going to be my father away from home,'" Brown said. "That's what I'm down here in Orlando for now."