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Mar 15, 2011 08:56PM ● By Erin Frisch

Photo illustration by Jim Conrad

Shaq and Einstein

Super-sized basketball star adores teeny horse

by Kevin Gray

Photo illustration by Jim Conrad

My four-year-old daughter Ella Rose spent Halloween night dressed as Einstein and often carries around a stuffed animal resembling the world’s smallest stallion, which begins to describe just how popular this miniature horse has become. Born in Barnstead and raised in Gilmanton, the blue-eyed Einstein was a media sensation after an appearance on Oprah and other shows ranging from Good Morning America to morning TV in the United Kingdom. This spring, Disney will release a picture book coinciding with Einstein’s first birthday. What’s next? A movie with Shaquille O’Neal? Stay tuned.

Love at First Sight

The pint-sized pinto—weighing six pounds at birth, April 22, 2010—caught the attention of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal on a preseason trip to Manchester with the Boston Celtics. Full disclosure: I showed the “Big Shamrock” a picture of the horse in the New Hampshire Union Leader, which had published a large photo illustration of Einstein and Shaq juxtaposed together.

O’Neal, a 15-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer, immediately was smitten by the horse. “How much does it cost?” asked Shaq, who has earned more than $290 million in salary, not to mention his paychecks from six movies, TV shows, and countless commercials. “I don’t think you have to worry about it,” I replied. “No, seriously, how much does it cost?” he asked again. Feeling like a mini-animal broker instead of a sportswriter, I vowed to research the animal for Mr. O’Neal. Fortunately, Einstein’s owners, Charlie Cantrell and Dr. Rachel Wagner, were somewhat amused by Shaq’s interest during a phone call the following day. No, Einstein wasn’t for sale and, besides, Shaq already had competition from another celebrity.

“Shaq would have to arm-wrestle Paris Hilton for him,” said Cantrell, jokingly, who was quoted in the New Hampshire Union Leader. “We’ve been contacted by so many people, but he’s not for sale. He’s priceless.” One radio station created a pretend bidding for Einstein that reached $2 million, Cantrell said. The story went viral, gaining legs on Twitter and popping up on celebrity and news websites all over the world. Go ahead and Google “Shaq and Einstein” for an afternoon of entertainment.

Shaq in New England

Truth be told, Shaq purchased a 5.7-acre estate in Sudbury, Massachusetts, that would be perfect for a horse. The four-dwelling compound has enough room for a stable of 20-inch tall horses. And by the time Shaq tweeted me about Einstein, alerting his 3 million-plus followers of his serious interest, I knew he was no longer kidding around.

This season alone, the future NBA Hall of Famer has posed as a statue at Harvard Square, gone snow tubing at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, Massachusetts, and conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra. Acquiring the world’s smallest horse seems only logical at this point. But Einstein is no longer a free agent and destined for greener pastures—like Hollywood. He spent much of the winter in California, soaking up the rays of Santa Barbara and literally nibbling persimmons, a tree fruit, near his pool.

Destined for Fame

Einstein already has his own film agent, Sean Daily of Hotchkiss and Associates, who is negotiating with Einstein’s book publisher for movie and TV rights. If you think Air Bud, a basketball-playing dog, was popular in the 1990s, wait until the world meets Einstein on the silver screen. And just imagine if he teamed up with O’Neal for a series of movies. Together, they could form “Shaqenstein,” a crime-solving detective team that secretly practices free throws for an upcoming city championship.

Following a recent Celtics game, I pitched the movie idea to O’Neal, and he instantly agreed to work with the world’s smallest stallion. It was a surreal conversation: standing outside the locker with Chris Ryan of WKXL and brainstorming with an NBA legend about an animated flick. Naturally, Shaq thought the movie idea was a slam dunk.

“Absolutely, I’d do it. [Einstein] is something that will never be forgotten—just like myself,” said O’Neal, who has made six movies, including the forgettable Kazaam! and underrated Blue Chips featuring Nick Nolte. “When you put two great things together, it’s something that will be talked about forever and ever. That’s how I live my life. I do things so people will remember Shaquille O’Neal forever.”

As it turns out, both stars have done projects for Disney, though Einstein doesn’t yet have a Screen Actors Guild card. This spring, the horse and his owners are planning to tour the country and promote the inaugural Disney book. Shaq’s latest work for Disney included a Halloween special that aired on Disney Channel.

Einstein’s team has been researching movie producers, with names like George Miller, Ron Howard, and Ben Stiller atop the list. Shaq plans to play one more season in the NBA before embarking on other major projects—like a movie with Einstein. Let’s hope it’s in the future for these two superstars.

“We love big thinking and Mr. O’Neal knows how to think big,” Cantrell said. “Einstein may be small but he thinks big, too! These two giant thinkers together could change the world!”

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