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O’Neal healthy entering 17th NBA season

October 13, 2012: Jermaine O’Neal has spent half his life in the NBA

Jermaine O’Neal celebrated a birthday Saturday.

“I’m 23 today. Yeah, again,” he said with a smile.

Perhaps the Suns big man feels like he’s 23.

“The biggest thing that I’m very excited about—knock on wood, is that my knee is not bothering me one bit,” he said following practice.

“That was mainly the biggest concern that I had coming into this year was my left knee. It’s been totally fine so far even with all the running that we’ve done; and we have ran an awful lot so far these first two weeks.”

This summer the 34-year-old O’Neal underwent Orthokine treatment on both of his knees in Germany. The procedure—also underdone by Kobe Bryant and Grant Hill, involves spinning a patient’s blood in a centrifuge to make a serum that is then injected to combat inflammation.

O’Neal has spent half his life in the NBA and hoped the treatment would allow for more time on the court. He’s played in only 49 games combined over the last two seasons (last season was cut short after season-ending left wrist surgery).

“It’s a blessing and it’s an honor to play this game as long as I’ve played,” he said. “A lot of people dream about this. They don’t get two days of this opportunity and I’m going into my 17th year.”

The Suns are O’Neal’s fourth team in the last five years and sixth overall since he entered the league as an 18-year-old first round draft pick of the Portland Trail Blazers in 1996.

The Suns signed O’Neal to backup Marcin Gortat.

“He can give us a presence in the post offensively,” head coach Alvin Gentry said. “He’s always been a pretty good defender and shot blocker.”

O’Neal, who spent the previous two seasons in Boston, is enjoying his time in Phoenix.

“You see the evolution of the guys starting to come into play,” he said.

“A lot people don’t know a lot about some of these guys on this team but I think if we continue to work at the level that we’re working at and continue to lock in mentally and focus on the things that we need to do, then I think they’re going to be very excited about this Phoenix Suns team.”

“It just feels right,” he added. “Everything is just so first class.”

Well, almost everything.

Following practice, O’Neal received a birthday serenade from rookies Diante Garrett and Kendall Marshall.

“Terrible,” O’Neal said of their rendition. “Being a North Carolina guy I thought (Marshall) was going to be a little bit better with the ‘Happy Birthday’. We’re going to work on him.”