Today: Jermaine O’Neal makes NBA history in Trail Blazers debut

Today: Jermaine O’Neal makes NBA history in Trail Blazers debut

Jermaine O’Neal was an anomaly when the Portland Trail Blazers drafted him straight out of high school with the 17th overall pick in 1996 NBA Draft.

O’Neal, along with Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, among others, were part of the new wave of talent that jumped straight from high school to the pros. But O’Neal was the youngest of them all.

On this day in 1996, aged just 18 years and 53 days, O’Neal made his NBA debut with the Blazers against the Denver Nuggetsscoring his first career points in garbage time during the win.

The young O’Neal mostly came off the bench during his four years in Portland as the veteran Blazers became one of the top contenders in the Western Conference. O’Neal’s lack of playing time was a major reason for the trade at the end of the 1999–00 season to the Indiana Pacers who brought Dale Davis to Portland in a one-for-one trade.

During his time at Indiana, the potential that Portland saw in him as a 17-year-old in 1996 became a reality. O’Neal made six straight All-Star appearances with the Pacers from 2002-07 and led the team to six straight playoff appearances, including a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004.

At the end of his NBA career, O’Neal spent more than half of his life playing professional basketball, retiring after 18 seasons in the league. He is widely regarded as one of the best centers of his generation, and it all started 26 years ago today.

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