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Larry Bird addresses beef with Jermaine O'Neal in Indiana: 'You hate to trade your best player'

Frustrations after frustrations saw O’Neal and Bird’s relationship getting fractious until it reached the point in which a trade was the only logical choice left.
Jermaine O'Neal and Larry Bird

Jermaine O'Neal and Larry Bird

Whenever we talk about the Indiana Pacers, some of us surely remember the name Jermaine O'Neal, the player touted to finally lead the franchise to a championship almost two decades ago. Under the tutelage of the legendary Larry Bird as the team president, the Pacers soared only to fall hard in the end.

Left with no choice

For those who didn't know, the Pacers were widely viewed as championship contenders in the first half of the 2000s. At the time, Reggie Miller still had a few bullets as a lethal three-point gunner, while the younger O'Neal was at the pinnacle of his career.

Everything seemed in place until the infamous brawl known as the Malice in the Palace marked the beginning of the end of Indiana's title hopes. The team's stars were hit with suspensions, and subsequent off-court run-ins with the law made things worse.

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After the infamous incident, the next three seasons gave the team a hint at what to do next, having been eliminated in the first round in 2006 and missed the playoffs in 2007 and 2008. Frustrations after frustrations saw O'Neal and Bird's relationship getting fractious until it reached the point in which a trade was the only logical choice left. So Larry Legend green-lighted the multi-player trade deal that sent J.O. to the Toronto Raptors.

"You hate to [trade] your best player," Bird said of O'Neal's trade in 2008 via Sports Illustrated. "But he was at the point where he thought a change of scenery would help him."

O'Neal also felt the same way. But once and for all, the six-time NBA All-Star said he and Bird didn't really hate each other.

"I had the best conversation I've had with Larry in five years," says O'Neal. "It was really civil, really logical… I don't think that we hated each other. I just think so much had happened that it made the job difficult, and the only way for that team to move forward was to move me."

A new beginning

When O'Neal arrived in Toronto, the team was trying to build in an attempt to rival the then-defending champions Boston Celtics. Former Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo had high hopes that O'Neal was one of the key pieces to get the job done.

O'Neal proved to the Raptors that he could still ball, having logged 13 points and seven rebounds in almost two seasons with the team. In 2009, he joined the Miami Heat, where he was also viewed as a contributor in the squad led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. However, he had already left Miami just before the legendary trio was formed.

Indeed, It's hard to tell what Larry Bird, Jermaine O'Neal, and the Pacers shouldn't have done to save the team during its glory days. But, at least even to this day, that Indiana team is considered one of the best teams that never won a championship.

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