- Eric Kilburn Jr., a 14-year-old from Michigan, has size 23 feet. Having such large feet has been a significant challenge, with his family struggling for years to find shoes that fit.
- After the Kilburn family shared their story with the USA TODAY Network, Eric received widespread messages of support. Both Puma and Under Armour offered to make the teen custom shoes.
- Basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, who wears size 22 shoes, also surprised Eric with a special call this week.
“I was flabbergasted,” Eric, a Michigan 14-year-old, said. “My soul left my body for a moment, I was so shocked.”
The call has been the icing on the cake – or perhaps the laces on the shoes as Eric’s mother Rebecca says – to a month of March madness after Hometown Life, part of the USA TODAY Network, wrote about the Kilburn family’s quest to find size 23 shoes for Eric.
The story struck a nerve among readers who sought to help Eric get shoes that fit. Advice from readers included shoe-cobbling instructions, company recommendations and most commonly, urging the Kilburns to “reach out to Shaq,” is known for kindness and generosity.
The Kilburns didn’t have O’Neal on speed dial, nor did they expect the star to take notice of their struggle. But after the Kilburns’ story went viral and resulted in offers from both Puma and Under Armour to make custom shoes, O’Neal took notice, too.
In his phone call to the Kilburn family, O’Neal, who wears size 22 shoes, empathized with Eric’s predicament. O’Neal told Eric that when he was the same age, his mom also couldn’t find the shoes he needed.
Eric, who sprained his ankle last fall playing JV football without cleats, asked O’Neal if he’d ever played football in high school. The answer was affirmative, but O’Neal also suffered an injury and six months later began playing the sport that would bring him fame and fortune.
“Shaq said he made $900 million by listening to his mom and dad, so he told me to listen to my parents,” Eric said.
O’Neal, who played in the NBA for 19 years, hasn’t had to worry about shoes in decades and soon Eric won’t have to, either.
Under Armour Senior Director of Footwear Development Robb Cropp scanned and measured Eric’s feet on Sunday and Puma plans to do the same this coming week, with custom-made shoes taking about two months to arrive.
In the meantime, Reebok sent five pairs of size 22 shoes they had originally created for O’Neal, and while it is still believed Eric needs a 23, these have more toe room than the Nikes the freshman had been wearing and are more comfortable.
“I’ve never seen my son smile so big,” Rebecca Kilburn said. “It’s tough to get a smile from a teen, but he is over the moon thrilled and blown away with options for shoes.”
‘Elvis slept here!’ Or did he:Rumors about ‘king of rock n roll’ propel this Airbnb experience
Rebecca Kilburn said O’Neal told Eric Jr. he would like to get him dress shoes from a man he knows that makes them up to size 26, and also said to call if he needs anything.
Eric Jr. has already been in contact with O’Neal a second time, to express his gratitude when the Reeboks arrived the day after their call.
O’Neal’s text message to him on Thursday is one that left an impression even bigger than their respective footprints.
“When him and I were texting about shoes, (O’Neal) said, ‘There’s much more coming big man. Love you,’” Eric said. “This is the ultimate.”
Follow reporter Susan Bromley on Twitter @SusanBromley10.
What’s everyone talking about? Sign up for our trending newsletter to get the latest news of the day.