Michael Kenny hoisted his 4-year-old son Bam-Bam onto his shoulders and waited with anticipation for two of the world's most recognizable athletes - Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Phelps to enter Loyola University's aquatics center.
"Put your hands up! Put your hands up!" Kenny urged his young son.
"Why?" Bam-Bam asked softly.
"You might be on TV," Kenny said with a laugh.
A few minutes earlier Kenny and his son were in danger of missing the two athletes go head-to-head in a series of swimming events for O'Neal's new ABC show "Shaq Vs.," which pits the basketball star against athletes in their own sports and airs Sept. 15, but at the last minute, the father and son were allowed to join 600 other screaming fans inside the sweltering, humid building situated atop Loyola's campus.
Now they were watching as O'Neal - dressed in a black, full body swimsuit - lay on the edge of the pool and plop into the water back first. The crowd roared with delight as a large splash of water kicked into the air. Phelps, who was noticeably limping - he injured his ankle in a car crash at Calvert and Biddle streets Aug. 13 - walked to the edge of the pool and gracefully dived into the water making a tiny ripple.
The two swam against each other in three races, which were handicapped to give O'Neal an advantage. The most spirited was a 200-meter medley relay where Phelps swam against O'Neal, who was teamed with Olympic gold medal swimmers Rebecca Soni and Dana Vollmer and world record holder Ariana Kukors. The end of that race resulted in one of the two men throwing his swimming cap and goggles out of the water in mock disgust.
The fans really appeared to get into the action.
One small child repeatedly yelled: "Go Michael! Go Michael! You can do it!"
Another fan held up poster boards that read: "I Love Phelps."
The evening was a "great experience," for Kathryn Gurley, her husband, J.B., and their 13-year-old twins, Ben and Taylor. The family, who live in Guilford, was the first to get tickets to the event Saturday afternoon when they accidentally arrived two hours early to the ticket giveaway at Meadowbrook Swim Club. Members of the club were given access to Sunday's closed event.
The effort was definitely worth it for the Gurley family.
"It was really cool!" Ben exclaimed.
"It was awesome," Taylor added.