01/13/2003 at 01:00 AM EST
During a basketball game Shaquille O'Neal is nearly impossible to guard. Off court, the Los Angeles Lakers star can be just as elusive. O'Neal kept details about his Dec. 26 nuptials under tighter wraps than a Lakers game plan and thus fooled not just the paparazzi but some of his own wedding guests as well. "I didn't know it was black tie," says Lakers guard Brian Shaw.
Dress code faux pas aside, all 248 guests found their way to L.A.'s Beverly Hills Hotel, where the nuptials of O'Neal, 30, and former film marketer Shaunie Nelson, 28, who began dating three years ago, went off without a hitch. Throughout the ceremony "he was very romantic," says wedding planner Mindy Weiss. "He kept giving her little kisses. He's a gentle giant."
He's also an attentive father, finding spots in the wedding party for the couple's son Shareef, 2, and daughter Amirah, 1 (a third child is due in the spring), as well as O'Neal's daughter Taahirah, 6, and Nelson's son Myles, 5, from previous relationships. All of them served as ring bearers and flower girls. The newlyweds will have to postpone their honeymoon at least until after the regular NBA season ends in April. Until then, they'll revel in what O'Neal's mother, Lucille, calls "the event of a lifetime. Seeing the two of them together and in love is what every mother dreams of for her child."