Transcript of Jermaine O'Neal Press Conference

by Conrad Brunner

July 16, 2003

July 16, 2003, Conseco Fieldhouse
"We just signed Jermaine to a multi-year deal. We’re very pleased about it. We know he’s the cornerstone of this franchise and we’re going to try to build this thing around him. You know in the past that Jermaine came out and said he’s very pleased with Indiana. He didn’t go out and do the carnivals and all the other stuff. He wanted to be here and he showed us today by signing, and we’re very pleased about that."

(Have you spoken with Brad Miller?) "I talked with Brad yesterday and I think he understands. Obviously, he’d like to be signed right now but I think he understands it takes time and things don’t get done on the spur of the moment. We’re trying our best right now to get with him and get something accomplished."

(How will you make the room to avoid the luxury tax?) "If you’ve got any extra cash, that always helps. It’s going to be tough, but we’ve got to sit down and look at the situation. We’ve been working on it for a few days. Our main concern was to get Jermaine signed because he’s the cornerstone of this franchise. Then, obviously, both Millers – Reggie played for me and I played against him. We’re going to get it done, it’s just going to take a little time. I can’t say we’re going to have it done tomorrow or this week. It’s just going to take time. We’ve got to sit down, look at the numbers and see what we can do."

(What advice can you give Jermaine about becoming a community icon?) "It’s according to what you give back. If you start giving back, the people realize that. Obviously, when you make a lot of money, people talk about it for a couple of days but they’re always waiting to see what you give back to the city. If you spend time with the kids and you spend time in charity work, it’s amazing how people will gravitate to you. I think Jermaine has shown that he’s done things in this city and he’ll continue to do more. The more he does, the more he’ll be loved.

"Very excited to have Jermaine back. What he’s represented to this franchise and what he’s developed into and how he’s grown as a person and how he’s grown as a player, we’ve enjoyed watching him grow and we’re going to enjoy continuing to watch his growth. Jermaine, I believe, has the potential to be a great player because of his person. He’s developed in so many ways, not only as a player but as a wonderful and great leader. He’s a very giving person, a very sharing person and the qualities that he exudes will be the qualities we play with as a basketball team. Very happy to have him back in the fold and I’m very, very, very excited and looking forward to working with him next year."

(What advice can you give Jermaine about becoming a community icon?) "I would echo what Larry said. For myself in Detroit, it was never about how I played the game of basketball. It was always about my person and what I did in the community. When people talk about myself in Detroit, every now and then you’ll hear ‘em talk about a good basketball game that I played, but it’s moreso about the person that I was and what I did in the community. I think Jermaine made that transition last year, where it became more about how Jermaine played and who Jermaine is as opposed to how many points Jermaine scored."

(How will things change for Jermaine?) "He and I have talked about this a little bit. The thing that changes for him now is making your teammates better. On nights you can score 20 to 25 points, those things are helpful. But some nights you may only score 12 points but you make your teammates better. I think the next growth phase for Jermaine is to make his teammates better and not necessarily have to carry the burden of the load every single night. He’s got to bring Al up, he’s got to bring Jonathan up, he’s got to help those guys become better players because that’s what the leader’s responsibility is – to help the other guys become great. That’s where he is now.

"First of all, I’ve got to thank God for putting me in this position. He’s given me the endurance to continue to endure with life. I thank the Simons for giving me the opportunity to take care of my 3-year-old daughter, her kids and their kids with the new deal. I thank this entire organization for making me look good and putting up with all my tough times with them, the coaching staff for giving me the opportunity, Donnie Walsh for bringing me from Portland and believing in me when nobody else believed in me. This city has been great to me."

"I was thinking maybe two weeks ago about the whole process. It was extremely, extremely tough. It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I just thought about the fans here and it was tough the first two days because I guess Dale was so well-liked here. I was staying at the Embassy Suites downtown and I went for a walk and people were almost booing me for coming. But they gave me an opportunity to be a player and that was hard to actually walk away from. My agent, Arn Tellem, has done so many great things. There are just so many people to thank, and this is a great day for me. I get the opportunity to be involved with the greats, Isiah Thomas and Larry Bird, for the next seven years, to deal with owners who just want us to win and who care about their team, Donnie Walsh, a city who loves basketball and a city who loves me. So hopefully in the next seven years, I can accomplish everything you guys want me to accomplish. Hopefully, I’ll bring a championship to the team, hopefully I’m an All-Star every year, hopefully I can win the Olympic gold for you guys next year."

"I’m really not an emotional guy. I play with a lot of emotions but I haven’t cried since like ’88, so you guys kind of forgive me. The bottom line is, when you think about cities and you think about going different places, I didn’t really think my mind and my heart could own up to going somewhere else. This city has slowly but surely brought me along at a pace I was very comfortable with. I just got tired of people speculating where I was going and putting me certain places. I thought it was unfair to this city, who really built me, who really kind of made me into the player I am today, to really go through that. So coming back here was definitely my first choice all along. I just wanted to make sure we’re in a great position next year to compete at such a high level than we can hop out to the great start like we had last year but not only hop out to the great start, but finish at a higher level instead of finishing where we finished last year. I have grown sick of watching the NBA Finals the last three years, of watching the playoffs. I think it’s time for this city to get back to the Finals. Reggie Miller is a guy I look up to a lot. He’s done so much for this city and this organization that I think it’s time for him to get back to the Finals. The initial step to getting back to the Finals was me signing back with the Pacers for the next seven years."

(How should Jermaine O’Neal Day be celebrated?) "This means a lot to me. I’ve never had this done to me before so I don’t know."

(Does the contract bring a new set of expectations?) "It’s really not a new situation for me. Obviously, it’s a great deal but my goals are still the same – to be the best player I can possibly be, put my team at another level, come back better, bigger, stronger physically and mentally and just be prepared to go to war for 48 minutes. My goals are always going to be the same every single year. I have to accomplish more and do more, but the contract doesn’t put any added pressure on me. I have the pressure still to be a champion. That’s my pressure every year until I win one. Then, the pressure the next year is to win another one. So I don’t see any added pressure."

(How do you feel about the city?) "Portland drafted me and that city was good to me, but this is where people really understood who Jermaine O’Neal really is. It’s kind of like a big family. When you go out, they make you feel good. Even when times are tough, they still make you feel good. It’s not just a basketball state, it’s a state that treats you like you’re their son. That meant a lot to me. I talked to my brother a lot – he’s been in Indiana pretty much the whole summer. I was really concerned about the city getting upset with the whole process and he told me everybody was positive about the situation. That made it really easy for me to say, ‘OK, this is where I want to be for the next seven years.’ I want to one day come back and do what these guys are doing, come back and run a team and be considered as one of the best players of all-time."

(Have you changed your feelings as expressed after the playoff loss to Boston?) "As a player, you want to win. You want to put the best team on the court. As far as the players on the court, it’s really up to our President of Basketball Operations and coach Thomas. I’m selfish. Obviously, I don’t want to lose. I don’t want to play 82 practice games to get to the real season, then play four or five games and go home. I want to play the duration of the playoffs and obviously, as a player, you want the best players on your team. Even if the team comes back the same way, hopefully they’re better players than they were last year. That’s where I stand. I want the best players on the court who are going to fight when we’re in our toughest position. I don’t want players that are going to give up. I want to fight until the buzzer goes off. If we lose fighting, I can deal with that. But if we lose the way we lost last year, I can’t deal with it."

(How do you feel about the chances of Brad Miller re-signing?) "I ran into Brad in Las Vegas about a week-and-a-half ago. He really wants to come back. He’s kind of waiting to see what I was going to do. I think we have a good tandem with each other, very beneficial on the court at the same time. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, he makes his decision."

(How will becoming a community icon affect you?) "I’m starting a foundation. I want to build a recreational center here that has classrooms inside that kids can go to after school and enjoy sports and also be tutored at the same time. Hopefully, that plan gets off the ground really, really soon."

(How is your stepfather’s health?) "He’s doing really well. He’s back in South Carolina wit his immediate family. He’s talking, he’s doing a lot of stuff on his own. That was a huge lift off my mind. It took a while to get over that and deal with that. But by him being able to get on the airplane, go home and see his family and try to get back this normal way of living really helped me get down to deciding where I want to play for the next seven years."

(What was in the gift pack the Pacers sent?) "A lot of personal stuff to remind you what you’ve achieved with this organization. The fact of the matter is, the stuff that I’ve achieved, from All-Star games to Olympic teams to All-NBA is because of the Pacers, our owners, Donnie Walsh, the staff – everybody has had input on my success so far. The cake was already made, but getting that package was the icing. It made me feel really, really good about coming back."

(What would you like to add to your game this year?) "I’m a little behind schedule. I haven’t really done much court work the last two weeks. I’ve been doing a lot of cardio and a lot of weightlifting because of the fact I didn’t want to get injured without a contract. It’s a good business plan but my workout starts tonight after I get done with my physicals. I may travel with the summer league team just to work out with them and get back on pace. And I have training camp with the U.S. team in a couple of weeks. I have to put myself in a position where I don’t do too much but still be impressive."