Shaquille O’Neal knows the pain of being big and tall in a world that is made for smaller people. So when he heard the plight of a 14-year-old Michigan boy who was struggling to find shoes that fit his size 23 feet (yes, size 23!), the basketball legend could definitely relate.
Eric Kilburn is only a freshman in high school, but he already towers over all of his schoolmates and teachers. Standing at 6 feet and 10 inches tall, Kilburn is still growing, but he really struggles with finding shoes that fit his extraordinarily large feet.
And this is more than just a vanity issue or a desire to have cool sneakers in his size. Wearing shoes that don’t fit has already caused the Goodrich High School freshman a great deal of pain. He sprained his ankle playing J.V. football because he didn’t have cleats that appropriately fit his large feet. He also regularly suffers from ingrown toenails due to wearing shoes that don’t fit right.
“It would mean everything just to have shoes that fit me,” the 14-year-old told Hometown Life about his painful predicament.
His mom, Rebecca Kilburn, echoed his plea to the media outlet, saying, “He is a wonderful kid and handles it well, but being tall and standing out is not always a blessing…It’s a weight on my heart as a mom to not find such a basic need.”
The Kilburns’ story went viral and, miraculously, it reached the Shaquille O’Neal camp. But O’Neal didn’t just have one of his people take care of Eric Kilburn. He called the teenager himself.
“I was flabbergasted,” said the teen told Hometown Life in a second interview. “My soul left my body for a moment, I was so shocked.”
O’Neal spoke with Eric about sports, and he advised the teen to listen to his parents.
“Shaq said he made $900 million by listening to his mom and dad, so he told me to listen to my parents,” the teen shared with Hometown Life.
But O’Neal did more than offer the high school freshman life advice. He also said he would hook him up with his own shoe connections, including someone who makes dress shoes for men with extra-large feet like him and Eric.
Meanwhile, Reebok, Puma and Under Armour have also promised to help outfit the teen with sneakers and cleats that will fit his size 23 feet. Puma flew out to Michigan to measure Eric’s feet in person so that they can make custom shoes for the teen. Mom Rebecca shared the exciting process on Facebook, writing on April 6, “PUMA DAY!! I am astonished at how the top experts have been flown out here to Michigan, with the one and only purpose of getting Eric the footwear he needs. All of our fears for fit, comfort, affordability, and access to the shoes he needs (now and future) are going to be 100% alleviated.”
Under Armour also graciously gave the teenager a personal foot fitting session. Robb Cropp, Under Armour’s senior director of footwear development, says they want to create cleats, sneakers and other athletic shoes for Kilburn as well as boots. Currently, Eric has to wear Crocs in the winter because he can’t find any winter boots that fit him.
“[Robb] said that these will be the largest shoes Under Armour has ever created, and that they are incredibly excited for the challenge,” Rebecca said.
But while Eric waits for his custom shoes to be made, he gets to wear Shaq’s very own shoes. O’Neal, who is a partial owner of Reebok, sent Kilburn several of his own size 22 Reeboks. They aren’t a perfect fit, but they’re a much better option than what the teen has right now…and of course, wearing O’Neal’s very own shoes more than makes up for the fact that they are a smidge too small. Rebecca posted a photo of her teen wearing a head-to-toe outfit gifted to him by the basketball legend:
“Reebok and Shaquille (yes Shaq!!! SO cool!!) had reached out saying that they would like to help Eric be more comfortable while he is waiting for his custom shoes, and that they had a few pairs of 22s made for Shaq in their inventory that they would like to send to Eric,” Rebecca posted on her Facebook page. “The package just arrived and he is in shoe heaven! I quote: ‘Mom, I don’t remember getting to ever choose what I wanted to wear like this before, there’s so many options!'”
What a happy ending for such a deserving kid!