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Shaq Ties the Knot

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Times Staff Writer

Keeping the curious from private weddings is a common dilemma for celebrities. But imagine trying to hide a 7-foot, 300-plus pound NBA superstar and his wedding party.

Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal tried to keep secret the location of his day-after-Christmas wedding ceremony with longtime love Shaunie Nelson. She is the mother of two of his children, and the couple have another one on the way.

Even guests weren’t told until the last minute. All day there were rumored locations: Malibu, Bel-Air.

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Then, from behind the manicured hedges and pink stuccoed walls of the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard came the stirring of news: bomb-sniffing police dogs passing through the ballrooms. A band practicing in the courtyard. White and gold tulle being draped on stairway banisters. White roses dripping from chandeliers.

From the side entrances, half a dozen florists’ trucks unloaded potted cherry trees blooming with white buds. And an ever-increasing cadre of tuxedoed and dark-suited security men appeared, giving the once-over to passersby as they took direction from unseen voices in miniature earpieces.

For O'Neal, who only a few months ago had said he wasn’t sure when he would be ready to marry Nelson, Thursday finally proved to be the day.

By 4:45 p.m., reporters clustered near Sunset and Beverly Drive swore they saw the smiling groom behind the wheel of an outsized Cadillac Escalade. He was followed by a stream of luxury cars whipping up the hotel driveway: Lotus, Ferrari, Range Rover and a caravan of limousines with blackened windows.

The hotel is not far from the opulent home he has shared with Nelson and the two children they had together. The couple are also raising Nelson’s son from a previous marriage. O'Neal also has a daughter from a previous relationship.

Earlier in the day, young girls paraded through the lobby in dresses they might wear to a prom. Men wore tuxedos with fancy custom vests.

“We’ve got a bride coming through,” a woman announced about 6 p.m., drawing the attention of patrons browsing in the hotel shops.

A minute later, O'Neal’s bride appeared, her belly showing in a white, beaded bridal grown. She wore a long veil and an elegant headpiece.

Nelson was surrounded by a coterie of women dressed in the style of the Nation of Islam. They had squared-off head coverings falling well below their shoulders and matching long-sleeved tunics over long straight loose skirts. One was dark crimson, another royal blue.

Nelson was whisked down the corridor, followed by hotel security as a handful of hotel patrons, including a couple of starry-eyed little girls who murmured good luck, best wishes and congratulations.

Word spread fast. Television satellite trucks staked out locations around the hotel. Security guards watched from street corners. News helicopters flew overhead.

O'Neal was rumored to have sold the rights to cover the wedding to a celebrity magazine, prompting guards to ask all other news photographers to leave the hotel grounds.

Pushed back to a Beverly Hills sidewalk, TV news crews attracted the curious.

Luba Morales and Al Gleichauf -- tourists from Rochester, N.Y. -- stopped to view the spectacle. “I don’t like sports,” said Morales, with a shrug. “But now I know who he is. He’s a Laker.”

Morales, 54, joked that the O'Neal-Nelson nuptials might finally prompt Gleichauf, her boyfriend of many years, to tie the knot.

“We’re inspired,” Gleichauf, 51, said. “Then again, we don’t have any children together. So we’re not that inspired yet.”

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Times staff writer Gayle Pollard contributed to this report.


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