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SPORTS: Star athletes say the craziest things (or do they?)

August 13, 2007

Ah, another day, and another kick in the teeth for the Indiana Pacers. Back to the oral surgeon.

The kind word for the Pacers' Jermaine O'Neal would be disingenuous.

Either that, or it's a gaggle of reporters whom O'Neal wants us to believe either fictionalized or took several quotes "out of context"-don't you love that fallback phrase?-last weekend in Los Angeles, where O'Neal said (or didn't say) he wanted to be traded to the Lakers and was critical of Pacers' President Larry Bird.

The Indianapolis Star's Mark Montieth reported that he read directly one of O'Neal's quotes to him.

"Wow, I didn't say that," said O'Neal.

Wow, then somebody's lying.

And O'Neal's agent, Arn Tellem, told the Associated Press that O'Neal had not requested a trade to the Lakers. "Any reports to the contrary are inaccurate," Tellem said.

So again, somebody's lying. And agents always tell the truth. Don't they?

So who would you believe?

Ink-stained wretches in the media are not above screwing up, but when several of them report the same stuff coming out of O'Neal's mouth, well, again, who would you believe?

And most scribes these days are diligent about recording conversations with those they interview. It's how they cover their behinds for precisely this kind of scenario.

So who would you believe?

IBJ readers may recall that O'Neal's daughter told a classmate-and a son of a co-worker of mine-in May that she wouldn't return to school this fall because her father had told her they were moving to California.

So who would you believe?

And what do we have here six weeks before the start of training camp but a guy who's unhappy cashing checks that add up to $20 million a year; a frontrunner who always seems to disappear-injured or otherwise-when his team most needs him; a guy who talks about leadership but never seems to demonstrate it.

Jermaine O'Neal calling out Larry Bird? You have got to be kidding me. Match those two up at similar stages in their careers and Bird would have had O'Neal for lunch ... and dinner ... and maybe dessert.

O'Neal's inconsistent babbles-he's going to lead the Pacers back, he wants to go to L.A., and then the next day he loves us again-are jockspeak silliness.

And speaking of silly, O'Neal said-again unless the scribes made it up and if they did, dang, they're good -that if he hung with the woebegone Pacers this year, he would consider opting out of his contract next year to become a free agent and thus forfeit a guaranteed $43 million.

See what can happen when you skip college?

The timing on this was pretty swell, too. The Pacers' front office has been working overtime trying to woo lost season-ticket holders back into the fold, cultivate new ones, engender continued support within the corporate community and allow people to get to know new coach Jim O'Brien.

Anyone I know who met O'Brien has come away impressed. He's rock solid. With or without O'Neal, he'll win a few games the Pacers kicked away the last couple of seasons while they were looking at the bench for what play to run.

There are many out there who share the belief that O'Neal will never win a championship, and it won't matter if he's playing with Kobe Bryant or Mike Dunleavy. The guy thinks he's Michael Jordan when he's not even close to being Scottie Pippen.

Bird is not going to give him away in a fire sale. This isn't Ron Artest or Stephen Jackson. But O'Neal's comments- if he said them-underscore that O'Neal cannot be counted upon as the player who will lead the Pacers back into the playoffs and eventually into championship contention.

Lean on this guy and you'll fall over.

He's given up on his teammates, and he's given up on the franchise.

If he stays, it will be interesting to see how O'Neal performs in what essentially would be a year-long audition for the free agency he would then supposedly seek. Who knows? It might work to shorten the time spent on the injured list.

If he goes, the Pacers can all but shut the door on one of the most frustrating periods in franchise history and hopefully bring in the kind of players fans can embrace, especially with O'Brien pushing the buttons.

Of course, if O'Neal really, really, really, really didn't say those things in Los Angeles, well, disregard this column. I really didn't write it. Love you, J.O. You da man.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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