Since Shaq showed up, Gainesville's "Basketball Cop" has grown from local hero to worldwide celebrity — and he's using his newfound fame to bring the sport to kids throughout the city.
Bobby White, an officer with the Gainesville Police Department, recently launched the Basketball Cop Foundation, which he is using to buy basketballs, hoops and other equipment for young people who may not be able to play otherwise. In five days, the foundation has raised more than $4,000 on the fundraising website gofundme.com. The goal is $25,000.
"Officer White has been absolutely overwhelmed with the amount of international support the #HoopsNotCrime story has garnered," Gainesville police spokesman Ben Tobias wrote on the GoFundMe page. "Many folks have already sent him basketballs and portable hoops in the hopes that he can help other neighborhood youth."
White's efforts began in January, after he responded to a noise complaint in a Gainesville neighborhood and found a group of young boys playing basketball in the street. Instead of reprimanding them, he played ball with the kids for a few minutes, promising to return later with backup for a real game.
After a few days, White joined his colleagues at police headquarters for a meeting to plan the rematch he'd promised. Then Shaq showed up -- like, Shaquille O'Neal, the 7-foot famous NBA basketball star.
"Backup is here," he told White. Shaq had seen the viral video of White's dashcam footage from the original noise complaint call and wanted to thank the officer, and surprise the kids.
Shaq's visit with the kids caught fire, too, inspiring donations and the hashtag #HoopsNotCrime. Officer White earned the nickname the "basketball cop."
White's first major project was to build a brand new basketball court in the backyard of one of the kids in the #HoopsNotCrime crew.
The kids were also invited to an Orlando Magic game, where they met the players.
According to the GoFundMe page, White plans to use the donations to build courts across Gainesville, and perhaps even expand beyond the city.
"Officer White has already been in contact with local apartment complexes and is working on replacing outdated basketball hoops and even creating new courts in complexes that don't have one," Tobias wrote. "...We're starting small, but we already have other police agencies across the country on board. The plan is simple…we identify a place where basketball can be a tool and a resource for neighborhood youth, and your donations help fund it."
Contact Katie Mettler at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.