The capacity crowd and loud chants of “defense” at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse had former Pacer and current Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal reminiscing about some good old times playing for the Hoosier state.
“It made me nervous,” O’Neal told me after the game in response to the applause he received from the capacity crowd that once cheered for him.
In eight seasons as a Pacer, O'Neal made it to the All-Star game six times as well as being named the 2002 Most Improved Player. He led the Pacers to the NBA's best record in '03-04 with 61 wins, and had it not for a knee injury he suffered in the Eastern Conference Finals, even as far as an NBA title.
“I’m going to be honest, I was kind of sitting and enjoying the atmosphere and it brought back so many memories seeing this arena packed,” O’Neal added. “Getting in the game and getting the applause, it almost threw me off my game. I’m going to be honest, I got nervous - after 18 years in the league you don’t really get nervous anymore.”
Undoubtedly, in his 18 seasons in the league, the 35-year-old veteran played his best ball while playing for the Pacers. And if it were up to him, he wishes his current team would somehow end up playing his old team in the Finals this summer.
“I’m extremely happy for this city. I’m always going to be a part of this city. I’m always going to be considered a Pacer in my blood whether people like it or not. It’s fantastic to be back here. In my dream scenario, the Golden State Warriors will be playing the Indiana Pacers this year in the NBA Finals.” O’Neal said in closing.