Some come simply to get a glimpse of the big boss, emphasis on big. That might happen a couple of times a day, a supervisor says, usually teenagers under the guise of seeking employment.
"Middle-aged people too, now that I think about it," Cynthia Atterberry adds, laughing.
They come to Compton, to a side street filled with low-rise warehouses and other industrial buildings, to see Shaquille O'Neal. If they want to meet the boss and their timing is perfect, on the one day or so a week he's in, they may get an autograph. But if they want a job, really want a job and not just to be able to tell friends they're hangin' with Shaq, they may get one. And something else.
O'Neal is part owner of a new clothing company called TWISM, named after O'Neal's slogan "The World IS Mine." Neither O'Neal nor company officials would say how much is invested in the company, which prints logos and attaches patches to T-shirts, jeans, jackets and other clothing items.
At the same time, the company goes out of its way to give entry-level positions to young people with no experience.
O'Neal wanted that as part of the mission statement when he and Cyrk Inc., a Massachusetts company, set about moving TWISM from concept to reality. Of the 21 people working at the company's new 27,000-square-foot facility, more than half are in high school or college.
And O'Neal liked the idea of opening a business in Compton.
"Compton always has this negative image, this negative energy," said Jeffrey Tweedy, executive vice president of TWISM. "He wanted to go someplace to make a difference. He couldn't do that in Bel-Air. He couldn't do that in North Hollywood. This is where he's needed."
Said O'Neal: "I'm kind of glad our space is in Compton. As you know, there's a lot of troubled kids. If we can take 10 of those troubled kids and turn them around, we're doing a good job."
The early months have been encouraging. Some employees have found assistance in housing concerns and learning how to start and maintain a checking account. TWISM helped one person in a financial bind line up free furniture. People in bad relationships have been directed to counseling.
Atterberry, the general manager, said the company hopes to begin an organized mentoring program in March in which the experienced would help the inexperienced learn how to find a job, how to make a positive impression in an interview, etc.
"The atmosphere here is like a family-life setting," said Takaisha Rush, a quality control technician who checks for printing defects on T-shirts. "It's not like a corporate feeling."
At least not a lot. There are offices and supervisors and budgets and deadlines, enough of all of that. There is no mistaking that O'Neal has not opened a social-service center but a business.
But there also is Rush, the first to admit she had a "major attitude" when she began working at TWISM 4 1/2 months ago. Having been drawn by the O'Neal name and the hope that being part of a new company would mean better chances for advancement, she now has something that is a considerable source of pride.
"It's more than a job to me," she said. "It's something I talk about when I go home. I'm totally into it."
And there is Chris Shivers, an assistant printer hired despite having no experience.
When asked what job he wanted, Shivers had no specific answer. He said only that he wanted a challenge and the chance to learn a trade, something he could use long term.
That was three months ago. He has been making the drive from Ontario ever since.
"This is not a paycheck job for me," he said. "If that's the case, I could be doing something else closer to home. It's about experience."
That's how most of the first meetings with young prospective employees go. Supervisors spend more time getting to know who a candidate is than what he has done.
O'Neal insisted it be that way. The man with the $120-million Laker contract and mega-endorsement deals for tip money was born into a working-class environment. As a 14-year-old he worked at McDonald's on the West German Army base where his father was stationed, at least for a couple of weeks until he left the job when a new one was handed to him: baby-sitting three younger siblings.
His opportunity came when his father bought him a basketball. He hopes a building in Compton does the same for someone else.
"He wanted it to be exactly the way it is," Atterberry said. "We've actually talked about it. . . . Before we opened he came down to check on how the building was coming along. He would say, 'When are people coming?'
"I'm very frank, so I said to him, 'This is what you want me to do, right?' 'Yeah,' he said, 'that's what we want.' "
She pointed out to him how different this was going to be from most businesses.
He pointed out how that's OK.
So, different it is.
"We would have been much more profitable faster," Atterberry said of the company, which has a small store at the production site and also ships items to local department stores. "I just think it was in his heart to say that instead of doing a normal deal about who works for me and knows everything in advance they're supposed to do, I just think he wanted something different. I think he thought this is what giving back is all about."
Said Rush, recalling her first job interview: "They focused on how motivated I was. They asked questions like when I get up in the morning, what motivates me. It was more an interview in motivation because I had absolutely no experience in production."
She does now.