Hall of famer Shaquille O’Neal, a 15 time National Basketball Association (NBA) all-star, will serve as a US Department of State Sports Envoy to Cuba from June 25–28.
Building on the momentum of US President Obama’s historic March trip to Cuba, this people-to-people program taps into the unique strength of sports – including basketball – to reach out to young people and promote cooperation and engagement in Cuba. O’Neal played for 19 seasons in the NBA.
While in Cuba, O’Neal will be joined by Dallas Mavericks Assistant Coach Kaleb Canales to lead basketball clinics for youth and demonstrate how sports can serve as a means of developing academic, leadership, and teamwork skills. O’Neal will draw on his personal basketball and business background to highlight the importance of social inclusion and respect for diversity. During his time in the country, O’Neal will visit historically significant cultural sites in Havana to encourage positive ties between the U.S. and Cuban people.
In another development, Vermonter Jake Agna’s vision for bringing tennis to Cuba became a reality on March 1, 2016 when the Cuban government approved a project to rebuild the tennis courts at the National Tennis Center in Havana. Agna has traveled to Havana several times in the last year to play with kids who are just learning tennis and some incredibly talented players.
The project is organized under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Cuban American Friendship Society (CAFS) of Burlington, Vermont, (non-profit, 501 (c)(3) organization), as the licensed exporter, and the National Tennis Federation in Cuba.
The original application, sponsored by CAFS, was designated Humanitarian status by the US Department of Commerce, allowing the project to be sanctioned quickly in December. With both license from the US government and Cuban approval, Agna and his team will embark on the first bricks and mortar project to take place in Cuba since the Eisenhower Administration.