LOS ANGELES – Jermaine O'Neal stood in the middle of a dejected postgame locker room talking about this final night of this season but thinking about this transformative season and wondering if he could walk away from it all.
These eight months with the Warriors had altered O'Neal's mood, brightened his outlook not only toward basketball and the NBA but also toward kinship and the glorious and maddening complexities within.
The catch in his voice was audible, the lump in his throat visible. And when he sensed moisture starting to well beneath his eyes, he paused to prevent a flood.
"It's been a fantastic run," O'Neal said late Saturday night, after a 126-121 loss to the Clippers at Staples Center bounced the Warriors from the playoffs.
"I tried. All you can do is try. You feel much more comfortable sleeping at night when you know that you've tried."
O'Neal, who played only three minutes because of a bone bruise on his right kneecap, then paused for a few seconds, a 6-foot-11 center straddling the sensitive line between melancholy and discontent.
"I never pictured that what could be, if it is, your last game, you're not able to be effective in a Game 7," the 18-year veteran said. "That's a tough pill to swallow.
"But I'm proud of the guys."
O'Neal had been this team's Yoda, its fountain of perspective and its calibrating influence. The six-time All-Star had played for six previous teams. The last three seasons, derailed by injuries, were unkind. He signed with the Warriors last July, seeking one more chance at postseason glory.
And now, after a fabulous and emotional seven-game series fraught with a spectacularly disconcerting subplot, it was over.
O'Neal did not fly back to Oakland in the wee hours Sunday morning, saying he would spend the day with his wife, Mesha, and their teen-age daughter, Asjia, who is 14 months removed from undergoing open-heart surgery. O'Neal said he would take time to "reflect."
And there is the boy, eight-year-old Jermaine Jr., who also must be consulted.
"Being a kid that was raised without his father, I know how hard these last few years have been for my son," O'Neal said. "I'm going to sit down and have another conversation with an eight-year old, again, and see where the blessings are for me.
"But I can say this: I appreciate what my teammates have done for me this year, injecting life back into my soul. I appreciate what our organization has done for me. I appreciate what the fan base has done for me, giving me love for basketball again. I appreciate what coach Jackson has done for me. I appreciate what the owners have done for me.
"I wish we could repay everybody by winning it all, but this year it wasn't in the cards."