Years ago, Jermaine O’Neal was a star big man for the Indiana Pacers during the early to mid-2000s.
It may be hard to believe today, but the Pacers were actually a very good team back then, unlike in recent years where they have failed to win a single playoff series since the 2013-14 season.
Midway through the 2021-22 season, they made a major trade that brought them sharpshooter Buddy Hield and budding star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, and Hield has just decided to switch from jersey No. 24 to No. 7.
O’Neal wore No. 7 during his playing career, and he says he’s “disappointed” that the Pacers have allowed Hield to make this change, implying that he’s disappointed the organization hasn’t retired his number, via NBACentral.
Jermaine O’Neal is disappointed the Pacers allowed another player to wear No. 7
— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) September 14, 2023
O’Neal was a first-round draft pick in 1996 out of high school by the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers had some stacked teams back then, and thus O’Neal got very little playing time with them in his first four pro seasons.
He was traded to the Pacers in the summer of 2000 just after they had reached the NBA Finals for the first time ever.
By 2002, O’Neal had emerged as an All-Star, averaging 19.0 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, and two seasons later, under head coach Rick Carlisle, Indiana became a force.
That season, they won a league-high 61 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, only to lose to the Detroit Pistons in a very ugly matchup.
Many felt the Pacers had championship potential for the 2004-05 season, but O’Neal was involved in the infamous “Malice at the Palace” during an early-season game at the Pistons, and he was given a heavy suspension as a result.
That was the beginning of the end of the Pacers’ viability, as they traded star forward Ron Artest the following year, and O’Neal’s own viability disappeared during the 2007-08 season due to injuries.
He ended up playing 18 seasons in the NBA and was chosen to be on the All-Star team six times.
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