Homesickness doesn't seem to bother Shaquille O'Neal. When he came to Miami this fall, he wasted no time selling his $7.5 million Beverly Hills mansion and scooping up a $16.9 million pad on Star Island. He happily accepted the Heat's offer of $27.7 million and waved bye-bye to California's 9.3 percent income tax (which saved him $1.25 million). "I'm happy," he recently told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I'm playing for a great organization in the Miami Heat. I'm 324 [pounds]. I got 13 percent body fat, I'm still America's number one sex symbol, and I'm running naked on the beach every night."
In addition to frolicking nude and playing b-ball, the seven-foot-one giant is working on a master's degree in criminal justice, playing in charity boxing matches, and now spreading his love northward to Broward County by serving as grand marshal of this year's Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade. You could say it's a step up for Winterfest -- whose past grand marshals have included Kelly Ripa, David Cassidy, and Ed McMahon. Event organizers landed Shaq when he fled one of this year's hurricanes and ended up at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino looking for a room. The complex's marketing official, Henry Pisano, managed to score a room key, and by the time Shaq checked out, he was booked as the grand marshal. Because of a conflict with one of his other endorsement deals, however, Shaq can't say the words Hard Rock in any sort of advertising capacity. So as grand marshal, what does he have to do, exactly? Organizer Kathy Kelleher explains, "He's going to be on the Grand Marshal showboat, and he's going to wave to 850,000 spectators."
Organizers claim that Winterfest is the largest one-day spectator event in Florida and the seventh largest in the nation. It consists of exactly 100 elaborately decorated boats. First will come a Coast Guard boat, then a fireworks barge, then a "circus barge" with acrobats. Then Shaq, on a 175-foot Windridge yacht. There will also be a boat filled with Miami Heat players, one with Florida Marlins players, and one boat in the shape of a chicken. The Octopus's Garden yacht, with flowers that only a marine mollusk could love, probably best fits this year's theme: "Rock 'n' Roll FantaSea."
Because so much of the Intracoastal has been gobbled up by private landowners, spectators are being directed to Birch State Park (3109 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale). You can either pay $2 for park admission and hang out on the south end of the park by the seawall or you can pay $17 ($12 for kids age 10 and under) and enter Winterfest's official grandstand viewing area, where you will find such treats as baby alligators (brought by the Seminole Tribe of Florida), beer (offered by Michelob), teenybopper music (by Radio Disney), and genetically modified foods (ConAgra). -- Deirdra Funcheon