I went to Shaq's Fun House, a wild Super Bowl pre-party with carnival rides, performances by Diddy and Diplo, and emotional tributes to Kobe Bryant. Here's what it was like.
Former NBA player Shaquille O'Neal hosted a wild bash two days ahead of Super Bowl LIV called Shaq's Fun House. This year's party came five days after the death of Kobe Bryant, O'Neal's longtime teammate on the Los Angeles Lakers. I got a press pass to attend the Friday night bash in Miami, and it was the wildest party I've ever been to in my life. I danced, rode carnival rides, and took full advantage of the six-hour open bar and free food like sushi, short rib sliders, and funnel cake. I even got access to a VIP booth with free-flowing Champagne and other bottles that I was told cost $50,000 to rent for the night. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
At 10:30 p.m., I was bored and getting rained on as I stood by the red carpet outside of Shaq's Fun House in Miami, wondering if any other celebrities would walk the carpet after the NBA legend himself had passed by. But by 2 a.m., I found myself partying in the VIP section with free-flowing Champagne, vodka, and tequila, rubbing shoulders with high-rollers, while Diddy performed onstage. Half an hour later, I was riding a merry-go-round with a cotton candy cocktail in my hand. It was one of the wildest and most unexpected nights of my life. Shaq's Fun House, the recurring party hosted by retired NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal, is described as "part music festival, part carnival, part circus," so I was expecting a pretty rowdy night — but it far surpassed my expectations. This year, it was a Super Bowl pre-party taking place the Friday night before Sunday's big game. The bash featured a six-hour open bar, food including as sushi, funnel cake, and sliders, carnival rides, and performances by Diddy, Diplo, Pitbull, Tiesto, and Dababy, and the host, O'Neal, DJed a set. There were several tributes to O'Neal's longtime teammate Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash just five days earlier along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others. Two days before his party, O'Neal announced on social media that he would donate the proceeds of the bash to the families of those who died in the helicopter crash, as well as the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation. Tickets for the event started at $400, and VIP tickets that included access to O'Neal's exclusive VIP lounge started at $2,000. I got a press pass for the exclusive party — here's what it was like to attend Shaq's Fun House in Miami on Super Bowl weekend.SEE ALSO: What it's like to go to the Super Bowl as an ultra-wealthy VIP, from flying in on a private jet to dropping $100,000 on 'luxury experience' packages DON'T MISS: Shaq explains why he's renting a baseball stadium to throw a Super Bowl party that's 'part music festival, part carnival, part circus' Shaq's Fun House is a recurring party, hosted by retired NBA player Shaquille O'Neal, that pops up around the country at major sporting and entertainment events like the Super Bowl.
The first Shaq's Fun House was in March 2018 at Miami Music Week and featured appearances by NFL players, musicians, and fashion designers, as well as a surprise dance-off between O'Neal and Rob "Gronk" Gronkowski, who played for the NFL's New England Patriots at the time. But perhaps the wildest Shaq's Fun House party yet took place the Friday night before Super Bowl LIV at Mana Convention Center, a venue in Miami's artsy Wynwood neighborhood that can fit up to 50,000 people.
I got a press pass to attend the exclusive event. The start time of the party was 9 p.m., but when I got there at 8:30 for the media check-in, guests were already waiting out front.
Some wore club attire and others were more casually dressed. I spotted several Kobe Bryant jerseys. The red carpet was around the side of the venue, near a separate entrance for the VIP guests who'd be walking the carpet.
A customized Rolls Royce was parked outside the side entrance with a snake emblazoned on the side in tribute to Bryant.
VIP guests stood around near the side entrance, waiting for the party to kick off.
Off to the side was a black coach bus that looked decked out to be a party bus, but I never figured out what or who it was for.
A circus performer wandered around on the red carpet, juggling glowing batons.
O'Neal was one of the last people to walk the red carpet.
All I could think about was that he really is that tall. And perhaps it was me projecting, but he looked sad. Three days earlier, O'Neal had given some emotional remarks following the death of his longtime teammate, Bryant. "My spirit just left my body," O'Neal said during a broadcast on TNT. "I just wish I could be able to say one thing ... one last thing to the people we lost. Because once you're gone, you're gone forever." I waited around for a bit longer to see if anyone notable would walk the red carpet, but it was raining and I wasn't completely covered by the tent, so at about 10:30 p.m. I headed in to check out the party. The inside space was massive and already packed with people. Giant balloon-like decorations hung from the ceiling.
The convention center can accommodate up to 50,000 people. There were easily hundreds there that night. The first order of business was to take advantage of the open bar and grab a drink with a few new friends that I'd made in the red carpet media area.
I had been dreading long drink lines, so I was pleasantly surprised to find we only had to wait for about 30 seconds. There were booths of free food from places like STK Steakhouse, Pubbelly Sushi, COYO Taco, Knaus Berry Farms, and Papa John's.
The staff kept the sushi constantly replenished. Whenever I took one piece, another instantly appeared to take its place.
Servers walked around carrying platters of bite-sized snacks like short rib sliders and funnel cake bites.
Circus performers in colorful, intricate costumes danced atop elevated platforms and wove throughout the crowd.
Elevated above the main floor was the VIP section, where guests paid at least $2,000 to be.
I'd been given a VIP All-Inclusive wristband along with my press pass, but apparently it only got me to the area closest to the stage, not to this ultra-exclusive VIP area. The performers of the evening included DJ Tiesto, who played until about midnight.
Along with my new friends, I managed to score a prime spot at the very front near the stage. The music was so loud it felt like my whole body was vibrating, and the crowd seemed to love it.
People danced wildly, threw back their drinks, and sang along to songs they knew. This blurry selfie sums up the night pretty well.
O'Neal could be seen hanging out in the VIP area mere feet from where I was standing.
Pitbull's performance included several dancers who somehow managed costume changes between songs.
Pitbull welcomed the crowd to his home city and told everyone to remember one important thing: "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. What happens in Miami never happened." He also spoke of Bryant. "May Kobe rest in paradise," Pitbull said. "I believe in energy, my friends, and his energy will always be with us." As he spoke, the crowd chanted "Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!" Periodically, smoke machines would dramatically blast columns of smoke into the air.
At other times, it was confetti.
By the end of the night, the part of the floor closest to the stage was completely covered by confetti, plastic cups, and glow sticks. At about 1 a.m., there was an emotional video tribute to Bryant.
The crowd grew quiet, the atmosphere became somber, and almost everyone pulled out their phones to record the video.
Then O'Neal, who spins as DJ Diesel, came onstage. He, too, spoke of Bryant.
"We miss you Kobe," he said, and told the crowd to "throw up your two-fours" in honor of his former teammate. Twenty-four was one of Bryant's jersey numbers for The Los Angeles Lakers. At one point, two performers on stilts dressed in elaborate robot customs marched out on stage and started dancing — something I've definitely never seen at a party before.
Dababy performed a short set that included his hit single "BOP," and Diplo and Diddy performed later in the night.
Around 2 a.m., I was unexpectedly invited to go to the VIP area with my friends by a tall, blonde woman who tapped me on the shoulder as I was dancing. Initially suspicious of why someone would randomly offer this to me, I shrugged it off. But she insisted, saying she had a bunch of extra wristbands and it was the end of the night. She said it was a $50,000 booth with free Champagne and other drinks. I thought she might be some kind of promoter. But then I thought, does it really matter? Who was I to turn down a $50,000 VIP booth with free booze? My friend and I followed her up the stairs to the platform. Though I didn't have the same up-close view of the performers, the VIP section gave me a more expansive view of the venue, not to mention much more space to move around and dance.
I was no longer crammed shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of people, and there were couches where people could sit down and relax.
There was also endless free Champagne, vodka, tequila, and mixers, and event staff who poured us drinks.
I looked around to see if I could spot any celebrities, but it was so dark that I could only really see the people in my immediate vicinity. It wasn't until the end of the night that I checked out the carnival section of Shaq's Fun House.
It was a full-on mini-carnival, complete with rides, funnel cakes, and cotton candy. There were carnival games like Touchdown, where players had to hit throw a football through a rubber tire and hit a bullseye.
I threw a football and won a teddy bear on the first try, which is not a skill I thought I had in me. In a Maker's Mark-themed fun house, people drank whiskey and played poker.
At another bar area, I got a cocktail that had cotton candy in it and I have no clue what else.
I rode the merry-go-round and any other ride they'd let me on as the party started to close down. Finally, at about 3:30 a.m., I headed back to my hotel.
While I had expected Shaq's Fun House to show me a good time, it truly surpassed my wildest expectations. The carnival rides, the dancing stilt robots and other circus performers, the performances from legendary artists like Diddy, and the tributes to Kobe Bryant made for a truly unforgettable evening. And the surprise last-minute access to the VIP booth certainly didn't hurt.
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