Aside from Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal was one of the youngest players in the superb 1996 NBA Draft class that soon became the brightest star in the league. Like any other 18-year-old prospect, O’Neal spent his first four seasons learning the trade in Portland. He took all that knowledge and became one of the foundation pieces of an up-and-coming team in Indiana.
Perks of being a star in Indiana
After just two seasons in Indiana, O’Neal was already the franchise’s marquee player, having won the league’s Most Improved Player award and registered his first double-double season averages (19 points, 10.5 rebounds per game).
As expected, the entire city was enamored with everything “J.O.” did for the Pacers. Needless to say, O’Neal enjoyed how the people of Indiana showered him with love, especially their touching gestures in public places.
“Everything they go through on a daily basis, the Pacers or Colts, either help it or makes it worse,” O’Neal told IndyStar of the people of Indiana in 2018. “They live and die. You feel the reception.”
“I remember coming from games during my max [contract] years with me and my family,” he continued. “I’ll go into Ruth’s Chris [steak house]. They’ll have my room in the back and I’d go to pay the bill and somebody had paid the bill already. That happened multiple times. That’s the love people give you. They’re so passionate about that team, whatever is happening is how they feel.”
Jermaine paid it forward
O’Neal’s reign as the Pacers’ talisman had been cut short due to injuries and other off-court issues. However, he made sure to pay forward the love he received from the city of Indianapolis during his prime years through various investments.
In fact, he admitted in the interview that he has been having “difficulty remembering exactly how many Church’s Chicken franchises he has invested in.” Off the top of his head, they’re probably “about 32” at the time. He also can’t remember the exact locations of the” two-star resorts he has helped” develop into five-star destinations--Napa Valley and Cabo San Lucas, and “the number of companies” he’s helped financially within the Bay Area.
As of this year, O’Neal’s reported net worth is believed to be around the region of $70 million. He may be living in one of his mansions somewhere in the country by now, but he will surely never forget Indiana was once his home.