This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.
All San Francisco Giants fans remember the speech. Hunter Pence gathered his teammates around him in the dugout before Game 3 of the Giants’ 2012 NLDS series against the Cincinnati Reds. The Giants were down 0-2 to the Reds and were facing the first of many potential elimination games to come. He told his teammates that he wanted one more day with them. He told them to never give up, to play for each other, to win each moment. He spoke with intensity and fierce passion.
Reverend Pence motivated his team and led them to victory in Game 3 and eventually to their second World Series title in three seasons. This speech was a defining moment for the Giants in 2012. He motivated his teammates to play with that “never say die” attitude that made them even closer as a team and made them even more powerful.
Jermaine O’Neal has shown this same passion and intensity on this Golden State Warriors team. Every time he steps on the court, he plays tough, he fights, and he pumps up his teammates. The Warriors certainly needed his passion in Tuesday’s game.
On Tuesday, the Warriors took on the Toronto Raptors and got seriously out-played in the first half of the game. They were down by 17 at the half and were down by as many as 27 points during the third quarter. At halftime, O’Neal delivered a Pence-esque speech to get his teammates fired up.
“Jermaine O’Neal gave one of the realest halftime speeches I have ever heard,” Klay Thompson said. “He said we’ll see what we’re made of in the second half.”
O’Neal explained to the team that if they wanted to show that they’re an elite team, they had to play like one. O’Neal told his teammates what they had to do to prove that they are a championship-calibur team.
“I told the team at the half, we’re going to see what we’re made of these next 24 minutes… if we’re talking about doing something special–if we’re talking about being a playoff team, being eighth, seventh, sixthseed, then whatever that was, that’s good enough…
“But if we’re talking about winning a championship, then we need to bring it every single night, dispose of the teams we’re supposed to dispose of and then grind like hell against the teams that are top-echelon-type teams.”
O’Neal’s speech might end up having the same effect on the Warriors that Pence’s speech had on the Giants. The Warriors could look back on O’Neal’s speech as the defining moment for when they went from hoping to be a great team to understanding the responsibility it takes to be a great team.
It seems like O’Neal delivered the speech with the same passion that Pence had when he gave his speech. O’Neal stood up and confronted his teammates when it mattered. He reminded them what kind of team they are. The Warriors are fighters, and they have that same “never say die” attitude that the Giants had. The Warriors are building this “never give up” identity by winning a game like the Raptors game.
The Raptors game clearly didn’t have the same stakes that the Giants’ NLDS game against the Reds had, but it could prove to be a pivotal moment for the Warriors this season. The stakes might not have been as high, but according to Mark Jackson, this game against the Raptors was the biggest game of his coaching tenure so far. He said it was a big statement win because they easily could’ve given up and moved onto the next game.
This type of win will do a lot for the Warriors’ team chemistry, and it builds character. O’Neal is showing this Warriors team how to be tough and resilient. He’s showing them that not every game is going to be won easily and how they need to grind out wins sometimes. As O’Neal said, great teams find ways to win games where they’re getting blown out or they’re undermanned. If the Warriors continue to play this style, they will become a legitimate title contender.
Both Pence and O’Neal are so valuable to their respective teams for reasons much more than their contributions on the field or on the court. They are the ultimate motivators and preachers. They lead their teams with their dedication, passion, and toughness. Pence inspired his team when they needed him the most, and O’Neal is doing the same thing by being just the motivational leader that the Warriors need.