by Conrad Brunner
April 25, 2002
Jermaine O'Neal was named the NBA's Most Improved Player on Thursday. What follows is a transcript of the press conference announcing the honor, with comments from team president Donnie Walsh, coach Isiah Thomas and O'Neal.
Even though I've had the opportunity to give out, or at least announce, awards for our franchise before, this one is special to me because, number one, the way Jermaine came to our franchise and seized the opportunity that he was given two years ago. You could really make a case that he could've gotten this award two years in a row because he showed the kind of player he is in the last two years. And the other reason is this is just the beginning for Jermaine. I think as he goes on with his career, I have no doubt in my mind he's going to show what kind of special player he is but also what kind of special person he is. It's really special to me to be up here announcing this.
It's appropriate for Isiah to be up here since he's been the coach that has allowed, that has put Jermaine in the position that he's in and will continue to do so. I know he's got to take some special pride in one of his players getting this kind of honor.
One day Jermaine can be the MVP of the league and that's how high he should shoot. Obviously if he does that then he's brought our team quite a long way. I think he's got the talent. I think he may be one of the most talented players we've had here, so I don't think he should limit himself in any way. As I said before, I think this is really just the beginning. It's just the first step toward a long array of awards that are available to him. And by the way, he does this all by himself. We made the decision to bring him in but then he has to go out and practice and play, so the credit belongs to him.
It's a great honor and a privilege to coach a guy such as Jermaine. He comes to practice every day and works extremely hard. But it seems like it was just a short time ago that we were sitting here the day of the trade and Jermaine was sitting here saying that he wanted to do all these great things and he wanted to be accepted into the community and he wanted to be a part of the Pacers organization. Just to see the way he's blossomed and grown and seen the way he's accepted the challenge of becoming a better player and making us a better team, a lot of the credit goes to Jermaine himself because when you're blessed with talent and you have a great gift, it means you have to put more into that talent and more into that gift than the average person does. Jermaine is truly blessed in a lot of areas. I told him he can't come to the gym and spend 40-45 minutes working on his jump shot like a lot of other players. He's got to put in 2 hours in every day because he can shoot the basketball, he can dribble the basketball, he has a low-post game on the right side and left side and he has a mid-range game. He's put the time into his game and he has to take a lot of credit for it.
First of all, I want to thank God for answering my prayers over and over again. I want to thank Donnie and Isiah for believing in me when nobody else did. I want to thank the entire organization, my teammates, and the city for giving me the opportunity to show the world what I can do. I want to also thank my family, all the voters who voted for me.
I really don't know what to say. Hopefully I can continue to get better. Hopefully I can win this award every year. Hopefully I can take my team to the championship.
This is a first-class organization who makes it really, really easy. We have one of the best coaching staffs in the league. They take the time to coach players, to help players understand, and it makes it easier for me to go out and play the game.
I don't really make statements just to make statements. When I make statements I believe in my statements. And my statement is that I'm going to be the best player I can possibly be. Whatever comes out of that, at the end of the night, I'm happy with.
(Where do you have the most room to improve?) Everything. I want to get better totally as a player, as a person, every single year. If I do those two things, then the sky's the limit. I'm OK with my ability right now but I think I can get a whole lot better where I can get to a point where I can destroy the entire league.
(Has it unfolded like you imagined when you came here?) It's pretty much right on time. I would like to have won it last year but in order to be successful, you have to go through tough situations and I've been going through that all my life.
(What was the focus of your offseason work last summer?) Before I left, I asked the coaches what was the knock on my game last year and everybody said I couldn't shoot. So I wanted to go home over the summer and work on my jump shot because I knew that was the difference between being an OK player and being a really good player. Last year, guys sagged off me because I was driving to the basket a lot. This year, they have to play me straight up because I can shoot it.
(Does this make you feel vindicated for those years on the bench in Portland?) I've got to really thank those guys out in Portland. They really prepared me physically and mentally to come into this situation, guys like Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, and Cliff Robinson. I had like 30-35 teammates in four years they changes the team so much. But they stayed with me. They knew I wanted to get better and they talked to me and told me if I continued to work hard, even if it didn't come in Portland it was going to come somewhere else. My mind and my heart are here with the Indiana Pacers. I've got memories good and bad of Portland but that part of my life is over. I plan on taking my team to the top level of this game and also to retire as an Indiana Pacer.