Has Miller Influenced O’Neal?

by Conrad Brunner

Feb. 23, 2004

If you'd like to pose a Question of the Day to Conrad Brunner, submit it along with your full name and hometown to Bruno's_mailbag@pacers.com. Brunner’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Pacers players, coaches or management.


Q. I saw Charles Barkley on TV (recently) talking about, and I paraphrase, how the younger “superstars” want all the glory, money, etc., but do not have the work ethic and willingness to put up solid effort on a continual basis. As soon as I heard him say this, I immediately thought about Jermaine O'Neal. He seems quite the contrast to this. Is this just Jermaine, or is this a heavy influence from Reggie and his well know professional ethic toward the game? (From Chad in Phoenix)

A. There is little question younger players can be influenced by the veteran leadership on their teams. Keep in mind, however, that O’Neal’s early years in the NBA were spent in Portland, where there were no Reggie Millers. He also had to sit on the bench and pay some serious dues for four seasons while the Blazers were winning at a high level, and that was a learning experience. Those years not only fueled his hunger, it gave him an appreciation that playing time is earned, not given. Almost from the moment he was traded to the Pacers, it was apparent O’Neal had maturity that transcended his age, and that he has his priorities in order. Having Miller around certainly helped, because no player in the history of the franchise has set a better example in terms of mental and physical preparation, not to mention overall work ethic.

As an aside, I generally just shrug off the sniping about “these kids today” from aging ex-players as the inevitable, stereotypical, result of generational transition. Have you ever heard an elder sit back and say, “You know, we were pretty stupid in my day. These young folks now are coming along a lot better than we did.” There are issues that are common to all generations of young players, but there are also problems specific to each. In Barkley’s playing era, for example, there were no teenagers in the NBA, so he has no frame of reference for comparison. Every new wave of players has examples both good and bad. In this generation, O’Neal is a shining positive example.