Jermaine O’Neal opens up on not liking Ron Artest
MISUNDERSTOOD

Jermaine O’Neal opens up on not liking Ron Artest

The Pacers were one of the best teams in the NBA that season – the favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals. Then one night in Detroit changed all that. The Malice in the Palace may have happened 17 years ago, but it still follows Jermain O’Neal everywhere he goes. 

I was just in Vegas coaching my son’s 8th-grade team and probably around 10 people came up to me and asked me about the brawl. 

Jermaine O’Neal, The Right Time with Bomani Jones

What frustrated O’Neal most is that all these years later, is that he still has to explain the same things over and over again. Most people don’t have their facts straight, and that’s what O’Neal hopes his documentary (coming out tomorrow on Netflix) will change. Throughout this process, O’Neal realized he also had a few misconceptions, primarily about his former teammate who was going by Ron Artest at the time. 

I think it’s important to talk about that I have nothing but respect for his struggle, and how he handles his struggle. Because I know now, and I’m better educated on what he deals with on a day-to-day basis.

Jermaine O’Neal, The Right Time with Bomani Jones

There was just much less awareness about the challenge mental health struggles can present to people on a daily basis. It’s not like O’Neal and other Pacers didn’t know Artest was dealing with stuff. I’m not talking about Artest being a bit wild and everybody saying ‘Yeah, he a bit crazy.’ Artest actually had a psychologist that followed him everywhere at the time, so it was understood his issues were serious. But even with that fact in mind, O’Neal and others in the locker room had a lot of misconceptions about mental health.

I did not have very good feelings when we played together. To me, at the time, it was just about winning and being dependable. I thought he was choosing not to be dependable. Not knowing that his struggle is anxiety and everything else that came with playing in front of 20.000 people on any given night. 

Jermaine O’Neal, The Right Time with Bomani Jones

That’s the best sentence to describe it – “choosing not to be dependable.” Unless you’ve been through it or have someone in your life who’s struggling with it, a lot of symptoms of mental health issues can be labeled just as irresponsible/lazy behavior. We all have tough days and periods in our lives, but we still show up, don’t we? O’Neal thought Artest was choosing to be unprofessional, thinking of himself before the needs of the team. As much as Artest’s wild behavior was an issue, there was never an open conversation about it.

People were afraid to talk about mental health because it was like an ACL tear back then – it’s like a death of a career.

Jermaine O’Neal, The Right Time with Bomani Jones

Luckily, we know enough that ACL tears and mental health challenges are not career killers anymore. The difference is that in an ACL tear recovery plan, it’s mostly about getting a good doctor to perform the surgery and then patiently putting in the work – the outcome is basically up to you. With mental health, you depend a lot more on your community. That’s why Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan speaking up was so important. It made us all realize this is as damaging as an ACL tear. It’s the one thing O’Neal wishes he could do differently.

I think I could’ve been a better brother, teammate to Ron – because back then, I’m just responding. I’m like, ‘What the fu…what are you doing? Retirement one day, music the next day, this that day, that this day, don’t show up that day.’ It was a lot to take in.

Jermaine O’Neal, The Right Time with Bomani Jones

The main story of the documentary is the brawl, and everything people got wrong about it. From the fact police were there and did nothing to protect the players to the fact ESPN and other outlets knew someone had to get labeled the villain, and it wouldn’t be the paying customers. But the background story O’Neal hopes everyone picks up on is the misunderstanding of Ron Artest, and the result is a new level of respect to his evolution as a man and a basketball icon.