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Ed O'Bannon Has Gone From the Hardwood to the Sales Floor
"The more you say it, the louder you say it, the better you'll do: 'I'm a car salesman,' " O'Bannon says. "Ever since Eric told me that, that's how I view things. Whenever I'm introduced to someone, or if I meet someone new and they ask what I'm doing these days, I give them a card. 'This is what I'm doing. This is where I am, and if you have any questions, I'll try to answer them for you.' "
From UCLA to New Jersey
By the time O'Bannon started at Findlay Toyota in 2004, he was already some six, seven, maybe eight years into his slow disassociation from his old identity -- that of Ed O'Bannon the basketball superstar, the man who had returned UCLA to the pinnacle, the well-rounded 6-8 machine who was going to save the New Jersey Nets.
When you pack in your NBA career after just two seasons and 634 points, and head off to play in Europe at the age of 26, you are pretty much conceding your legacy will never grow beyond what it already is -- which, for O'Bannon, meant being known forever as the guy who scored 30 points with 17 rebounds in the 1995 NCAA championship game, and who won the Final Four most outstanding player award and the Wooden Award as the country's best college player.
By 1998, having been traded twice in a little over a year, O'Bannon was sick of the NBA, sick of getting just 16 minutes of playing time per game, sick of the bump-and-grind Eastern Conference style, sick of coaches trying to make him into a shooting guard when all he had ever played was power forward.
In a way, by quitting the NBA he was merely fulfilling the destiny that, in hindsight, appeared unavoidable to him from the very day he was drafted. That spring day in Toronto in 1995, with his girlfriend (now his wife) sitting beside him, this L.A.-born, L.A.-raised and L.A.-forever kid watched the cameras swoop in on each prospect just before NBA Commissioner David Stern announced their names, and, as the Nets' turn approached with the ninth pick, prayed they didn't descend upon him.
But they did.
"I'd had a pretty good workout with [the Nets], and I said to myself, 'Watch it be my luck -- I'll go from UCLA to New Jersey,' " O'Bannon says. "And sure enough, the cameras come and focus on me just as New Jersey's pick is about to be called. And I'm just like, 'I can't believe I'm going there.'
"That's the honest truth. Right then and there, my stomach dropped and I started to get homesick."
The three-year, $3.9 million contract he signed with the Nets helped soften the blow a little bit, allowing him to buy an SUV for himself and another one for his brother, Charles -- who followed Ed to UCLA and then to the NBA. He and Rosa bought a condo near the ocean in Manhattan Beach, Calif., outside Los Angeles -- but that only served to make him miss home even more.
"I wanted so bad to go to Portland, or Phoenix," he says. "It didn't have to be the Lakers. I wasn't greedy. Just give me Utah or Denver, somewhere in the West, where I could shoot home on an off day. People who don't get homesick won't understand what I'm saying, but that's how I felt, and because of that I just never got comfortable."
Because of his failures in the NBA -- he lasted just a season and a half in New Jersey, and just 19 games with the Dallas Mavericks, finally getting released in 1997 by the Orlando Magic, having averaged just 5.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per game -- he understands that part of his legacy will always be his status as one of the biggest busts in the history of the NBA draft.
Part of the problem, to be sure, was the knee injury. A week before the first practice of his freshman year at UCLA, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee playing in a pickup game at the student rec center. The doctors replaced the ligament with one from a cadaver, and O'Bannon redshirted for a year. He returned to amass one of the great careers in the program's storied history, and it wasn't until years later -- right around the time he needed it to secure his financial future -- that the knee began to drag him down.