Julian Benbow of the Globe has a very nice profile today of Jermaine O’Neal, one in which O’Neal—always a thoughtful player—opens up about leaving Indiana, his relationship with Isiah Thomas and how Paul Pierce, his off-season neighbor in Vegas, convinced him to come to Boston. The whole piece is worth your time. Here are a couple of excerpts:
On choosing Boston over the Heat (without, of course, mentioning the fact that Miami may not have been willing to throw the full mid-level at him):
“There’s no ego, and it’s hard to find no egos,’’ O’Neal said. “As good as individual players are, especially when I look at a situation like Miami, none of those guys had to really deal with sacrificing.
“That’s what made Boston more intriguing for me and a situation I thought would be better for me. These guys [in Miami] are all really good individual guys that are used to shooting 20 times a night just last year. These are all young guys.
“So no matter what you say or how you say it, they’re going to still want the credit. But I know the Boston Celtics aren’t about that.’’
On his last days with Pacers:
“When I noticed that it was starting to weigh on my family, I asked to leave Indiana,’’ O’Neal said. “I never expected to leave Indiana. That was the breaking point for me.’’
He broke down crying in his car after his last game as a Pacer. His wife was in the passenger’s seat. He wanted to retire right then.
“She knew it because I told her that I actually understood the effects of those dark days on my family,’’ O’Neal said. “It started really bothering her to see me physically the way I was and emotionally and mentally the way I was.
“That was basically the reason why I felt like it was time to go. It was a very difficult decision.’’
Finally: On Paul Pierce showing off the new jewelry in the summer of ’08 in Vegas:
The summer after the Celtics won the NBA title in 2008, Paul Pierce paid Jermaine O’Neal a visit.
Pierce walked in with his ring on, beaming. After so many years in the league — some successful and some painfully futile — Pierce was riding a high that he had never experienced in basketball. O’Neal could sense it when they went to dinner.
“He was at a different level,’’ O’Neal said. “It was like a natural high. Like a newborn baby or winning the state lotto. Whatever it is that gives you that feeling of happiness, he was there. As a player, you’re not envious of what he’s done. But you want to have that feeling.’’