Jermaine O’Neal’s Decision Against Surgery Proves Determination to Win Championship With Celtics

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January 20, 2011

Jermaine O'Neal's Decision Against Surgery Proves Determination to Win Championship With Celtics Jermaine O'Neal is stubborn as a mule, and it's a beautiful thing.

The Celtics' backup center has been battling knee pain ever since the preseason schedule began over three months ago. He's continually trying to fight through it, and the pain has kept dragging him down.

Any sane person, you'd presume, would have given up and gone under the knife weeks ago. The Celtics have played 41 games, O'Neal has missed 24 of them, and there's no end in sight. A long-term fix appears necessary.

And yet J.O. decided this week that no, thanks anyway, he's all good. No surgery.

Is he crazy? Maybe a little bit. But it's the good kind of craziness — it demonstrates that O'Neal is singularly focused on winning a championship this season with the Celtics. If only everyone could be so crazy.

To fully understand O'Neal's decision, you have to understand the context of his career. O'Neal has been around for 14 seasons, going on 15. He was drafted right out of high school in 1996, a 17-year-old kid from South Carolina with a bright future, and he's been trying for a decade and a half now to cash in on all his potential.

He's scored over 12,000 points in his NBA career. He's earned six All-Star selections. He broke the bank with a seven-year max deal with the Pacers in 2003 – in his career, he's made over $150 million and counting.

But he's still yet to win a ring. In fact, he's never even reached the NBA Finals. The closest he came was with a Pacers team in the mid-2000s that couldn't quite get over the hump. He's been passed around from Portland to Indiana to Toronto to Miami and now to Boston, and he still hasn't reached his ultimate goal.

And he's running out of time.

That's why he's going for broke this season. He squandered his first 14 seasons, never getting within striking distance of a ring. His future beyond 2011 is totally uncertain — everyone's is, what with the current labor situation. O'Neal's window is right now, and he knows it.

If Jermaine O'Neal were less determined or less motivated, he might have made a different decision this week. But he's locked in on winning a championship in 2011, and he wants to win it on the court, not watching from the bench in a suit and tie. J.O. is battling through this because in his mind, he doesn't have a choice. The Celtics are lucky to have a player with that mindset.

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