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Viral ‘basketball cop’ and Shaquille O’Neal enlisted by FBI to build trust between police and black community

A COP who became an internet sensation when he was called to break up a basketball game among some kids but instead joined in - has told of his mission to mend trust between police and the black community.

It comes as relations between the law enforcement and African American communities are at an all time low, following a week of protests at the death of George Floyd while in custody - as well as looting and riots in many major cities across the US.

But Florida officer Bobby White, who partnered up with NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal after video of his impromptu ball game went viral, has a simple way he believes can help build bridges - he wants to see a basketball in the trunk of every cop car.

And he and Shaq have even been asked by the FBI to come and help train officers at their headquarters three times a year.

Four years ago, Bobby was called out to a poverty-stricken hood when someone complained about youths playing basketball but instead of breaking the game up, he played ball with the kids for 15 minutes, with his police dash cam recording everything.

When Gainesville Police Department put the video up on social media, it reached ten million views within 24 hours and, within a day, the stage was set for a return game with the kids but this time with the 7ft 1in basketball king Shaq, 48.

This time around, the story exploded worldwide with O’Neal turning up to surprise the kids, play hoops and offer some friendly life advice.

Bobby, 50, has since set up the Basketball Cop Foundation, with a simple premise that a ball can help repair the trust between crime-ridden communities and police.

Now the foundation helps communities across America and beyond from building entire courts to handing out new sneakers to deprived kids.

"I got a call through of kids playing basketball, it wasn’t in my usual zone, I didn’t know this neighborhood, so I didn’t tell them off, instead I played with them for 15 minutes, then my CPO posted it on Facebook, I had no idea, it went completely viral, it blew up," Bobby told The Sun.

"Everyone wanted a piece of me - Good Morning America, CNN, ESPN, Sky News in London, Tokyo, I did an interview with the BBC, which got 100 million hits. They said: 'Bobby, we've never had a video come close to that many views.' It got crazy.

"I then used it as a platform to launch the foundation. We’ve now donated balls to 200 police agencies in the US, I deal with sheriffs and chiefs, and thousands of police officers."

The NBA star has been behind the foundation every step of the way and now the FBI want Bobby and Shaq to present at its national academy to 250 law enforcement chiefs from around the world, not just as a one-off feel-good story, but three times a year, every year.

"It’s not easy to change, you have officers who say it’s not police work, they don’t get it," he said.

"They say we have to be enforcers, arrest drug dealers, but if you do just that, it’s not going to work, you have to balance it with community engagement, so when you do enforce the law and there’s an incident, if there’s a trust, then they’ll accept that it’s the right thing to do.

"If it was part of a cop's training, they’d realize that’s just as important. My whole career there’s been a disconnect between kids and cops, especially lower income communities, a mistrust and misunderstanding, a lot of tension."

He added: "I’ve tried all my career to get out of the car, interact with the kids, let them know we’re out there not just to give them a hard time. The time I played basketball, I just saw this as another opportunity.

"It’s a great way to connect - most kids play basketball and it’s hard for a middle-aged cop to get out of the car to speak to a teenager or six-year-old in a new neighborhood. The kids are scared, you open up the truck and have a ball in your hand, it’s an ice-breaker, it humanizes the cops.

"These kids don’t usually have an interaction with the cops until later in life, they’ve been taught to hate them or think they’re racist. You can erase that instantly by doing this, by interacting with them, play ball, have a laugh with them. It works, I’ve seen it over and over again."

He says he and Shaq have become close over the years - and he once even stopped by just to give him a hug.

"He called me up about 9.30 at night and said: 'You working?' I asked: 'What’s up?' wondering if he was in trouble again, as the original day he came, he got pulled over by a state trooper for doing 100. He said: 'I was just traveling through, I miss you, I just want to give you a hug.'"

Bobby's organization regularly hands out basketballs and sneakers to disadvantaged kids.

"I get most satisfaction from the small things, they can make the biggest impact. I can send 20 basketballs to any police agency in the US for $100, that’s 20 opportunities for a cop to have first-hand interaction with a kid in a positive way.

"I’ve had balls donated to me where companies make these with special markings and I’ve seen kids, two, three years later bouncing that ball, and they’d be like: 'Officer White, remember you gave me this ball?' They don’t forget it.

"We also have a “Kicks for Kids" initiative where, if a cop sees a kid has really bad shoes, they’ll reach out to me and we’ll get him some Nike, Under Armor, Adidas, high-end sneakers and socks, and he’ll then pull the kid out of school and say: 'We noticed your shoes are all messed up, here’s some new shoes.'

"Think what that does... you’re not only giving them new shoes, but they think: 'My cop got me some new shoes, how cool is that?'

"When they go home, they’ll be asked where they got the shoes and, even if they liked the police or not, they’re going to think that officer is pretty nice.

"I have a dream of having a big Basketball Cop Foundation headquarters down here in Gainesville with a court, classrooms, a police unit attached to it, always cops and kids in and out, where they can come after school, play ball...I’d also like to see a ball in the trunk every car."

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