Former basketball great Ed O’Bannon, left, found a home with Findlay Toyota nearly ten years ago. He is shown with dealership General Manager Rich Abajian.
Former UCLA All-American and pro basketball player Ed O’Bannon and his wife, Rosa, knew his playing days were over in 2004. One year earlier, the couple and their three children had moved to Las Vegas from Southern California.
Now in sales at Findlay Toyota, Ed O’Bannon carefully made the transition from standout athlete to that of a car salesman without a flinch. He is relaxed, down-to-earth and happy with his new life.
You might say that O’Bannon has followed the same path as many other former athletes who have found a home at a Findlay Automotive Group dealership after their career have has been concluded. Starting with company chairman Cliff Findlay – a former NSU basketball star – the list of former athletes with the company is long and O’Bannon fits in well.
However, the 6-foot-8 O’Bannon just might be the most prominent former athlete to sell cars for the Findlay chain of dealerships. He was a McDonald’s High School All American when he led Artesia High School to a 29-2 record.
O’Bannon committed to UNLV Head Coach Jerry Tarkanian before the NCAA leveled the Runnin’ Rebel program with probation. With the penalties in place at UNLV, O’Bannon enrolled at UCLA where he led the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA National Championship victory over Arkansas.
In addition, O’Bannon was named was named the Most Outstanding Player for the tournament.
After being drafted ninth in the first round by the New Jersey Nets in 1995, O’Bannon went on to round out a career that included stops with the Dallas Mavericks, the LaCrosse Bobcats of the Continental Basketball Association along with teams in Italy, Spain, Greece, Argentina, Poland and the Los Angeles Stars of the American Basketball Association.
A focused individual, the 42 year-old O’Bannon gave up his athletic career and with his family left a very expensive Torrance, Calif. for a more comfortable and more affordable home in Henderson. Not long after the move, he joined Findlay Toyota as a sales associate in 2005.
“I just reached the point where I didn’t want to play basketball anymore,” said O’Bannon. “I was burned out physically, emotionally and mentally and plus, we no longer wanted to live where it took everything we had to survive.”
The O’Bannons sold their home at the peak in 2003, a more affordable home was found in Henderson and there has been no looking back. In addition, he works as an assistant basketball coach at Liberty High School.
“I still remember my first car deal,” O’Bannon remembers. “I was helping an older couple who were interested in a Camry. I remember it was really hot and I was sweating. The people knew I was new to the car business and they told me to calm down. They seemed to appreciate that I didn’t pressure them.”
To a degree, O’Bannon was hooked on the car business from that moment on.
“There is a certain rush to selling a car,” he said. “It’s a huge purchase for someone second only to buying a home, so I always want to make sure everyone is happy. I just try to be myself.”
O’Bannon is certainly happy with his automobile career. Now entering his 10th year at Findlay Toyota, he has visions of entering management.
“What I really love about the car business is that I have the best boss in the world in (General Manager) Rich Abajian,” he said. “When the recession hit, Rich was insistent that he wasn’t going to give up. He looked everyone in the eyes and said he was going to win. We had just moved into the new dealership and it was all about surviving. We had our backs against the wall, but we’re back stronger than ever now.”
Lately, O’Bannon is best-known for taking on the NCAA in a landmark court case. Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the NCAA must now compensate student athletes for money generated through participation in college athletics.
Meanwhile, O’Bannon is happy with his career in the car business, and he’s well-liked by fellow employees.
“When I first interviewed Ed, he was very skeptical about entering the car business whether or not he had the skills to be successful,” Abajian said. “After sitting and talking with him, I realized he was very smart, articulate and had great people skills. Those are the qualities needed to be successful in any business.
“Ed has turned into model employee who is always willing to do whatever you ask of him. He has turned into not only a great person, but he is also a great employee, a great teammate and a great confidant for me when there are issues in the dealership or even my personal life. He is a big reason we are where we are today.”
Situated at 7733 Eastgate Rd. in Henderson, Findlay Toyota is part of Findlay Automotive Group founded more than 50 years ago by the late Pete Findlay, whose son, Cliff, now spearheads operations in Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Idaho.