Shaq brings US basketball diplomacy to Cuban capital

NBA Hall of famer Shaquille O'Neal, plays with a youngster during a clinic with young players in Havana, Sunday, June 26, 2016. O'Neal will visit historically significant cultural sites in Havana to encourage positive ties between the U.S. and Cuban people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA (AP) — NBA great Shaquille O’Neal has become the latest emissary for American outreach to the people of Cuba.

O’Neal is putting on a basketball clinic on public courts in Havana, part of a U.S. State Department-sponsored mission to foster people-to-people exchanges with Cuban citizens.

The four-time NBA champion led kids in layup drills and coached scrimmages on Sunday while onlookers cheered from the sidelines.

O’Neal said the mission aims to extend a “friendly hand” and smooth U.S.-Cuban relations, which were openly hostile for over five decades before diplomatic ties were restored last year under presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro.

Cuban teen Juan Navarrete said it’s a thrill to see an NBA star up close and he aspires to maybe make the big leagues someday.

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