Boston fans and media can be ruthless. Jermaine O’Neal found that out the hard way. After posting 13 fouls and just eight points and nine rebounds in three Celtics’ losses to open the 2011-12 season, it seemed like everyone in The Hub was calling for O’Neal’s head. Writers were calling O’Neal “timid.” Others were advocating for the C’s to bench J.O. in favor of Greg Stiemsma, a 26-year-old rookie.
During the Celtics’ 96-85 win over the Pistons on Friday night, O’Neal responded to the haters with his play on the court, getting it done on both the offensive and defensive ends. In a season-high 29 minutes, O’Neal dropped a team-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, grabbed seven boards, and blocked two shots. Then, after the game, O’Neal responded to the critics with his words, launching into a three-minute monologue that touched on everything from his treatment in Boston to his motivation to his strategy on handling criticism. We were there.
“I don’t read papers. I don’t listen to radio stations. I don’t look at whatever it is. … It’s easy for people to sit behind the table, sit behind the camera, sit behind my microphone, sit behind the TV at home and judge what it is that they think you should or shouldn’t be doing. It’s easy. It’s hard to respond though.
“My thing is I want to play for the real fans that support this team. I want to play for the guys that’s in this locker room and this organization. They know what we put into this. Nobody’s going to take the easy way out. If I wanted to take the easy way, I would have retired. I wouldn’t have went to camps like I was in my third year. I went to training camps 16 years into the league. Who’s doing that? You find somebody that’s playing 16 years that’s going to training camp and doing two-a-days.
“I don’t worry about what people say because, at the end of the day, the same people that’s criticizing you are going to cheer for you when things start going well. That’s just the nature of the game. This world is built on negativity and criticism. And if you can’t absorb it, then you’re in trouble. I don’t get emotional about it. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. When (I was averaging) 20 and 10 for six or seven straight years everybody (said), ‘Yeah, you this guy, you’re that guy.’ If I’m hurt, all of a sudden I’m in the other boat. If you think about it, my career’s been about that. (After) being drafted, (people said), ‘He can’t play. He’s going to be out the League in the first three years.’ I’ve heard it all. I challenge myself because that’s who I want to be. I got to wake up in the morning and look at that mirror and be like, ‘Ok, whatchu gon do? You going to lay down, or you going to fight?’ I’m a fighter.
“So when people say that, I don’t hear it. The best thing about it is when I’m out they make me feel right at home. The city makes me feel right at home. Last year was unbelievable. I missed almost the whole year, and I’m out and about, and people would say, ‘Get well. We can’t wait to see you back.’ And that’s why you fight. You fight for yourself and for those people who come up to you and say, ‘I wish you luck. Get back soon.’ People that’s out there criticizing from afar, that’s how they thrive.
“I’ma put myself in a great position to help this team win, and that’s all it’s about for me to be honest. I’ve been knocked down so many times, you don’t keep getting up if you not that type of person. I’ma keep fighting. I’ma keep fighting until I say, ‘You know what, it’s time to raise my son and my daughter.'”
And there you have it.
What are your thoughts about Jermaine O’Neal this year?
Follow Martin on Twitter at @MartinKessler91.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.