By Elaine C. Mantikas

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Shaquille O’Neal stopped by Times Square on Monday to help the U.S. Marines kick off this year’s Toys for Tots program.

O’Neal may be retired from basketball but he is continuing to play “Shaq-a-Claus” for the third year in a row.

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Before teaming up with Toys “R” Us and the Marines, the former NBA star said  he spent nearly 20 years buying gifts for thousands of children on his own.

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“I would go out and buy toys for about 300 to 1,000 children,” O’Neal told 1010 WINS.

However, O’Neal said he can’t take all the credit.

Photo Gallery: Shaq-A-Claus In Times Square

His mother gave him the idea, when she told him about 50 children at the local church didn’t have presents to open Christmas morning.

O’Neal said 16 million children won’t have a toy to open Christmas morning and he hopes to decrease that number.

“In a perfect world I wish I could get rid of that number,” he said. “Christmas is like a special day and to have somebody know they’re not getting anything, and have somebody to come downstairs and to not see not even one toy, I don’t think I can take that.”

O’Neal said seeing the children smile is the greatest gift of all.

For more on Toys for Tots click here.

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