O'Neal puts family ahead of all else

O'Neal puts family ahead of all else
February 22, 2013, 8:00 pm
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PHOENIX — The NBA trade deadline came and went with Jermaine O'Neal staying put in Phoenix.

Like most veterans nearing the end of their careers, the former Celtic would love to play for a title contender.

But there's one thing that O'Neal cherishes even more - family.

That's why even given an opportunity for the greener pastures of a playoff-bound, title-contending club, O'Neal opted to instead stick it out with a Suns (18-37) team that is in full-blown rebuilding mode.

"If I'm supposed to win a championship in my career, I'm going to win it," he said. "If I ain't, I'm not. Basketball isn't going to justify who I am as a person. Some guys need that. I don't need that. I have a great family. Basketball has been very good for me. And it's created a lot of opportunities for me as well. That's my concentration, finish this thing the right way and compete and enjoy it."

But even that will be challenging because of family-related matters that are out of O'Neal's control.

NBA players make off-the-chart salaries that the average person could not fathom in a lifetime, let alone a year or two.

But even with all that money, they too experience unexpected setbacks.

He has missed time with the Suns this season due to various illnesses in his family.

The most serious now involves his daughter, Asjia O'Neal, who has a leaky heart valve.

Her dad said that surgery is scheduled for next month in Boston.

"I don't know if God is trying to tell me something because I'm having to fly back to my family quite a bit this year," O'Neal said.

In addition to his daughter's heart condition, O'Neal said his grandmother had a balloon put in her chest three days ago and an aunt recently passed away.

O'Neal admits his daughter's health has been at the forefront of his thoughts.

"My daughter is taking it better than me and the mother," O'Neal admitted. "I talked to her yesterday about it. She just wants to get it (surgery) over with."

O'Neal chuckled at the thought that his daughter is more bothered by the fact that she'll miss several weeks of volleyball, rather than the surgery itself.

"As a father, you want the best for her," said O'Neal, who will be in Boston for a few days with his daughter during her surgery. "You want her to come back stronger than ever. I have to be there."

The Suns have been totally supportive of O'Neal, which certainly played a role in his decision to stay in Phoenix rather than latch on with a playoff-bound club like the New York Knicks which had expressed strong interest in making a trade for him.

O'Neal said Suns owner Robert Sarver, President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby and General Manager Lance Blanks were willing to pursue moving him on to a playoff-bound club if that was what he wanted.

He declined the offer.

"Starting over and having my daughter's situation to deal with, it didn't make much sense (to request a trade)," said O'Neal, a six-time all-star.

He added, "at this point in sports, you don't see a lot of loyalty towards players and teams anymore. Mr. Sarver and this organization have invested in me, to come here and help these guys grow a little bit. That's what I want to do, finish my job."

And his job as an NBA player may not be over after this season.

O'Neal has not made up his mind as to whether he will retire, but he will prepare himself during the offseason as if he will be returning.

"I'm going to go to Germany when the season is over with and have the procedure done again," said O'Neal, referring to the therapeutic procedures performed on both of his knees which was similar to what Kobe Bryant had prior. "So basically I can still work out. If I choose to work out, I can be pain-free. I'm going to train like I would play next year."

Health will indeed be a factor in his decision as to whether to return - his and the health of his family.

O'Neal had a health scare of his own when an irregular heartbeat landed him in the emergency room for a battery of tests which was just another one of the many hurdles he has had to deal with in recent years.

"The last six years of my career has been a challenge after a challenge," O'Neal said. "I know at some point I'm going to get to where God really wants me to be. It's a message somewhere in that. I've had a hell of a challenge for it to be so sweet for so long and to be so sour for so long. I'm going to finish this year as strong as I possibly can finish and continue to try and build and get these guys right. And walk away and feel you've done something."