Jermaine O’Neal has spent three careers in the NBA.
He entered the league as its youngest player – undercutting Kobe Bryant by a few months – and spent four seasons in Portland buried on the bench.
Then, he went to Indiana and made six straight All-Star games, even finishing third in 2004 MVP voting.
Afterward, he floated to Toronto, Miami, Boston, Phoenix and Golden State, making modest contributions in each stop.
Raw youngster, star and journeyman.
He’s really settled into that last role with the Warriors this season, averaging 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 20.8 minutes per game. Of course, a pleasant regular season isn’t what O’Neal is after at this stage of his career.
Eighteen-year pros, O’Neal and Steve Nash are the only active players in the NBA that long without a championship. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant have already gotten their titles.
O’Neal knows time could be running out. O’Neal, via Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News:
“This could be it,” said O’Neal, 35. “So this is my last chance to try to win a championship. That’s how I view it right now, whether it is or not.
“It affects all the way to how you view your pregame meal to your nap to your bus ride to the arena. Those things are a little more intense than they would normally be.”
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It’s difficult to read that quote and not think about a passport issue keeping O’Neal from travelling with the Warriors to play the Raptors, but for what it’s worth, he firmly denies losing it:
O’Neal is not perfect – he also discusses The Palace brawl in Leung’s article – but he’s had an incredible career. Whether or not he wins a championship, that won’t change.
But the passion he’s put into his quest for a title is precisely why his career has unfolded this way.