The Indiana Pacers have officially announced the greats of the past who will be honored with commemorative bobbleheads on “Decade Game” nights as part of the franchise’s celebration of its 50th season:
October 26: Bobby Slick Leonard - Tipoff Celebration
November 12: Roger Brown - Celebrating the ‘60s
December 10: George McGinnis and Mel Daniels - Celebrating the ‘70s
January 7: Chuck Person - Celebrating the ‘80s
February 11: Reggie Miller - Celebrating the ‘90s
March 12: Danny Granger - Celebrating the ‘00s
April 4: Paul George - Celebrating the ‘10s
There can be no argument with the well-deserving names selected, among which are four members of the Hall of Fame, two ABA MVPs, two Rookie of the Years, two Most Improved Players, two Olympic Gold Medalists, and the man who saved the franchise and led it to its only championships. Still, one omission is particularly noteworthy: Jermaine O’Neal.
Go thirteen seasons back and the lesser mentioned O’Neal was a legitimate MVP candidate, earning two first place votes and finishing third behind Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
In 2004, he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds while blocking nearly 200 shots and earning his third All-Star selection. A dominant post threat who was masterfully adept at taking charges equally as well as he altered shots, it is a sad reality that one regrettable decision made during one game somehow manages to whitewash all that he achieved over the other 500-plus games he donned the Blue & Gold.
Especially considering that his name is prominent on the franchise’s season and career leader boards. He recorded three of the four best blocks per game seasons in team history, and he’s Indiana’s all-time blocks leader (1,245) and fifth-leading scorer (9,580), trailing only Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Billy Knight, and Roger Brown.
In addition to being a six-time All-Star, O’Neal was twice awarded the NBA’s monthly Community Assist Award recognizing his charitable donations made locally during the holidays in partnership with the Indianapolis Housing Authority, Indiana Black Expo, and Feed the Children. All of which tends to be overshadowed by The Brawl’s dark cloud.
None of this should be interpreted as an attempt to diminish or downgrade Danny Granger’s contributions during the aughts. Bridging the lengthy gap between Reggie Miller and Paul George, the long-range marksman’s ability to guard multiple positions while shooting better than 40 percent from distance made him a man before the league’s stretch-four time and an All-Star captivating enough to make slogging through several meh seasons worth it.
O’Neal shouldn’t replace Granger. They both deserve to be celebrated for different reasons, which obviously was an option since McGinnis and Daniels are co-honorees.
In defense of the Pacers, it is not a given that “Malice in the Palace” was the reason for O’Neal’s omission. Back in March, SI.com’s Chris Ballard wrote a fantastic article describing JO’s near-Championship misses which revealed that he still hasn’t officially filed his retirement papers. If this is still the case, perhaps the slim possibility of an unlikely comeback made the team where O’Neal made his name hesitant to honor a player who could potentially be under contract with another team.
Whatever the motivation for the oversight and regardless of who is immortalized as a collectible, it’s far passed time to forgive and, more importantly, stop forgetting.