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Ex-NBA star Jermaine O’Neal says DFW Airport didn’t develop around youth sports complex


Retired NBA star Jermaine O’Neal is suing DFW International Airport over what he says are unrealized aspirations for a retail and entertainment district where the basketball player built his Drive Nation Sports youth athletics complex.

Within the lawsuit filed this week in Dallas County court, O’Neal said that he’s sunk $14 million into constructing the Drive Nation training academy — which has helped nurture young NBA stars similar to Cade Cunningham and Tyrus Maxey — but that the airport never followed through on guarantees to construct a thriving development around it.

That’s left participants within the sports complex with few nearby options, though the airport is benefiting from athletes and families flying in from around the globe, lawyer Victor Vital said. Vital said damages amount to at the least $10 million.

“They essentially sold them a bill of products,” said Vital, an attorney with Barnes and Thornburg in Dallas. “The lawsuit was filed by Drive Nation because DFW Airport lured them into the lease with empty guarantees.”

Related:Ex-NBA star Jermaine O’Neal’s passion project has solidified Dallas as a youth sports haven

DFW Airport spokesman Brian Brooks said the airport is aware of the lawsuit but declined to comment further.

O’Neal was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers, blossomed right into a star with the Indiana Pacers, and spent 18 years within the NBA. He was a six-time NBA All-Star and three-time All-NBA player before retiring in 2014.

Even with no ties to North Texas, O’Neal settled in Southlake after his profession ended and in 2017 opened the Drive Nation complex, a 91,000-square-foot training facility that has several basketball courts and hosts tournaments and training for youth teams.

“This is absolutely for young people to sharpen their skills and to learn life lessons too,” O’Neal said in an interview.

The ability hosts about 60,000 people a yr, mostly for tournaments and camps on the weekends. About 500 kids and teenagers train there often.

O’Neal claims he hasn’t made anything back on his $14 million investment at Drive Nation, which was financed by the $168 million he made during his NBA profession.

The ability has thrived and expanded into hosting youth volleyball training in addition to a charter school focused on student-athletes. Drive Nation’s youth basketball travel team, playing within the Nike Elite league, has hosted a handful of NBA players, including Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons, Maxey of the Philadelphia 76ers, and RJ Hampton of the Orlando Magic, in addition to a handful of high-profile college players.

Within the lawsuit, O’Neal said he nearly built Drive Nation in Keller to be the anchor of a development there, but was lured by DFW Airport industrial development chief John Terrell with the promise that the complex could be at the middle of a mixed-use development featuring hotels, restaurants and retail next to one in every of the world’s busiest airports.

Drive Nation signed a lease, agreeing to pay the airport $145,000 to $445,000 annually for 40 years on 16 acres, about half of which is undeveloped but will be used for sporting events.

A quote from Jermaine O’Neal is displayed on the wall at Drive Nation youth sports complex.(Elias Valverde II / Staff Photographer)

But six years after it opened, Drive Nation is surrounded by industrial warehouses, with fading hopes of making a retail-friendly district.

“That promise couldn’t have been farther from the reality: Today, Drive Nation’s multi-million dollar sports facility is on an island, surrounded by a sea of warehouses and a single Whataburger connected to a gas station,” the lawsuit said. “That is removed from the mixed-use development that DFW pledged to entice Drive Nation to sign the lease.”

The lawsuit states that O’Neal’s team reached out to attach Terrell with former MGM Resorts executive Alex Yemenidjian a couple of desire “to bring legal gambling to the realm,” but nothing ever got here of the talks. Casino gambling proposals have been defeated each time they’ve gone before Texas voters.

A Hyatt Place hotel is nearby, as are a Starbucks and Whataburger attached to a gas station, but none of that’s throughout the “Passport Park” development area the airport pitched when Drive Nation was negotiating, the lawsuit states.

O’Neal also had a deal to sell Drive Nation, but that fell apart when DFW wouldn’t extend the terms of the lease by 15 years, in line with the suit.

“The emphasis will not be a lot on Drive Nation as on the intended beneficiaries of the sports complex, that are the young athletes and their families,” Vital said. “The tournaments on the Drive Nation complex are vital events within the lives of those young athletes and their families, and so they should have the ability to exit to eat and have a good time nearby once they are here.”

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