SOMERVILLE, NJ - NBA great Shaquille O'Neal, a New Jersey native and a mountain of a man whose accomplishments on and off the basketball court are legendary, took the time Tuesday night to call the Critical Care unit at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital/Somerset to extend thanks and encouragement to the staff for their tireless efforts to treat patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brianna Vasquez, a patient care technician, had reached out to O'Neal on Instagram last week and asked whether he would reach out to her and her colleagues. The 25-year-old is a big fan of the NBA.

The 48-year-old member of the NBA Hall of Fame - and the New Jersey Hall of Fame - agreed to do so. The call came in the midst of the 12-hour shift change. Vasquez would only say that a "surprise" guest was about to call.

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"I didn't think I would ever do something like this, it's just crazy, Vasquez said.

Vasquez said she had reached out to other celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Mariah Carey, but did not hear back from them.

"I knew Shaq was active on Instagram, and he would probably be the best possibility to respond," Vasquez said. "He is so humble and gives back so much.

"I politely asked him if he would be able to reach out to my ICU (Intensive Care Unit) family, and he got back to me right away," she said.

The short 40-second video shows O'Neal being driven in he back seat of a car, looking out the side window while he speaks into his phone.  There's a lot of chatter, laughter and squeals in the background from the crowd gathered in the ICU conference room to see O'Neal.

Here's what he had to say:

"I know you guys are working hard . . I know you guys are tired . . . I just want to say thank you.

"I appreciate all you guys . . . keep up the good work and please be safe . . . 

"I know you guys don't get a lot of appreciation but I appreciate everything you guys do , , , 

"You guys are great at saving lives."

"I thought maybe it was a little childish to do, but people were so excited, taking photos, sharing them, texting them, it was really such a great experience for everyone," Vasquez said.
Following a stand-out college career at Louisiana State University, O'Neal was the No. 1 draft pick of the Orlando Magic in 1992 and won Rookie of the Year honors. In 1999, he signed a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning three consecutive NBA championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004 and won his fourth NBA championship in 2006. He was traded to the Phoenix Suns midway through the 2007-08 season, and was traded again to the Cleveland Cavaliers the following season, playing his final year in 2011-12 with the Boston Celtics

O'Neal, popularly known as "Shaq" or "Diesel" has parlayed his size - 7'1", 325 pounds; bigger than life personality, sense of humor - and toothy smile - into a financial empire that embraces all forms of the media, from video games to television, films, commercials and beyond.

He's a sports analyst, music producer - he's released four rap albums, one of which went Platinum - a reality TV star, and has appeared in TV series and films.

He's been a TV pitchman for soft drinks, auto insurance, sneakers, pain medications and other products. 

He's a sworn deputy sheriff in several jurisdictions in different parts of the country.

He's also an investor and financier; he recently provided funding for the construction of multi-family housing in Newark.

O'Neal's individual accolades include the 1999–2000 MVP award,, the 1992–93 NBA Rookie of the Year award, 15 ALL-Star game selections, three All-Star Game MVP awards, three Finals MVP awards, two scoring titles, 14 ALL-NBA team selections, and three NBA All-Defensive Team selections. He is one of only three players to win NBA MVP, All-Star game MVP and Finals MVP awards in the same year (2000). He is ranked 8th all-time in points scored, 6th in field goals, 15th in rebounds and 8th in blocked shots.

Largely due to his ability to dunk the basketball, O'Neal also ranks third all-time in field goal percentage (58.2%) O'Neal was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.]

O'Neal is a big fan of the New Jersey Devils, and is often seen at the Prudential Center in Newark for their home games,

He also dabbled in politics, filming a campaign commercial for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2013.