Retired NBA star Jermaine O’Neal sues DFW International Airport About what he says are the unfulfilled aspirations of the retail and entertainment district where the basketball player built his position Drive Nation Sports Youth athletics complex.
In the lawsuit filed this week in Dallas County Court, O’Neill said he dumped $14 million Build the Drive Nation Training Academy – which helped nurture young NBA stars like Cade Cunningham and Tyrus Maxey – But the airport never fulfilled its promises to build a thriving development around it.
This left participants in the sports complex with few options nearby, although the airport benefits from athletes and families coming from all over the world, Lawyer Victor Vital said:. Vital said damages amounted to at least $10 million.
“They basically sold them a bill of goods,” said Vital, a Barnes and Thornburg attorney in Dallas. “The lawsuit was brought by the Drive Nation because DFW Airport lured them into the lease with empty promises.”
DFW Airport spokesman, Brian Brooks, said the airport was aware of the lawsuit but declined to comment further.
Drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, O’Neal blossomed into a star with the Indiana Pacers, spending 18 years in the NBA. He was an NBA All-Star player six times and an All-NBA player three times before retiring in 2014.
Even with no ties to North Texas, O’Neill settled in Southlake after his career ended and in 2017 opened the Drive Nation Complex, a 91,000-square-foot training facility that houses several basketball courts and hosts tournaments and training for youth teams.
“This is really for young people to hone their skills and also learn life lessons,” O’Neill said in an interview.
The facility hosts about 60,000 people annually, mostly for tournaments and camps on weekends. About 500 children and teenagers train there regularly.
O’Neal claims he has never recovered anything on his $14 million investment in Drive Nation, which was funded by the $168 million he made during his NBA career.
The facility thrived and expanded to host youth volleyball training as well as a private school focused on student athletes. The Drive Nation youth basketball travel team, which plays in the Nike Elite League, has hosted quite a few NBA players, including Cunningham Detroit Pistons, Maxi of the Philadelphia 76ers, and RJ Hampton of the Orlando Magic, as well as a handful of notable college players.
In the lawsuit, O’Neill said that The Drive Nation building in Keeler was almost an anchor for development therebut was tempted by DFW Airport commercial development director John Terrell with a promise that the complex would be in a mixed-use development center with hotels, restaurants and shops adjacent to one of the world’s busiest airports.
Drive Nation signed a lease, agreeing to pay $145,000 to $445,000 to the airport annually for 40 years on 16 acres, half of which is undeveloped but can be used for sporting events.
But six years after it opened, Drive Nation is surrounded by industrial warehouses, with hopes of a retail friendly precinct fading.
“That promise could not be further from the truth: Today, a multi-million dollar Drive Nation sports facility is located on an island, surrounded by a sea of warehouses and a single Whataburger connected to a gas station,” the lawsuit said. “This is far from the mixed-use development that DFW has pledged to entice Drive Nation to sign the lease.”
The lawsuit states that O’Neal’s team contacted Terrell with former MGM Resorts CEO Alex Yemenidjian about wanting to “bring legal gambling to the area,” but nothing came of the conversations. The casino gambling proposals were defeated every time they went before the Texas voters.
Hyatt Place is nearby, as are Starbucks and Whataburger attached to a gas station, but none of that within the “Passport Park” development is the airport that was offered when the Drive Nation was negotiating, according to the lawsuit.
O’Neal also had a deal to sell Drive Nation, but that collapsed when DFW did not extend the terms of the lease by 15 years, according to the lawsuit.
“The focus is not so much on Drive Nation as on the intended beneficiaries of the sports complex, which are the young athletes and their families,” Vital said. “The Championships at the Drive Nation Complex are important events in the lives of these young athletes and their families, and they should be able to go out to eat and celebrate nearby when they are here.”