By Sam Hart | @the_line_131
On June 28, 2007, Greg Oden was on top of the world. Picked first in that year’s NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers, the Ohio State Freshman – already being compared with some of the game’s legendary big men – seemingly had it all. That off-season, however, before he had bounced a single competitive basketball for his new team, it was decided that he needed knee surgery, meaning that he missed the entirety of what would have been his Rookie year. And that, quite literally, was that.
He made a comeback as planned the following season, only to crumble into a heap in a game against the Houston Rockets fairly early on, his opposite knee the culprit this time. Anybody that remembers the footage from that incident will be able to picture the sickening sight of him writhing on the ground and hear the eery silence of 20,000-odd spectators looking on in disbelief at the Rose Garden.
The next season was cut short, too, meaning that Oden has played 82 games total in the National Basketball Association. Or one full season’s worth out of five.
It’s been tough.
Eyebrows were raised, then, when the current Champs, the Miami Heat, decided to bring the big man on board for this campaign. Many, of course, are critical, and expect nothing, but it could turn out to be shrewd business from the Heat’s point of view. Despite the two-year contract initially reported in the media, the deal offered to Oden is said to be only one year and for the veteran’s minimum salary. So even though it’s high risk, it’s relatively low cost. He apparently had choices but, unsurprisingly, he was lured by the prospects of South Beach, King James and Titles. It’s a marriage made in heaven if he can stay healthy.
And to be fair, it’s about time Oden had some luck on his side.
His knees have truly taken a battering over the years, resulting in three micro-fracture operations, one arthroscopic surgery and another procedure to fix a broken patella. Then there’s the un-related foot and wrist injuries thrown in for good measure. It’s easy to see why his detractors say that he is made of glass.
In fact, in 2012 Oden was told flat-out by his doctor to retire. At 24 (he’s now 25) that would have been seriously hard to hear. Add to the mix the tragic deaths of his best friend and cousin, a battle with borderline alcoholism and some naked photographs that he took of himself that leaked on the internet, anybody can agree that he has been through a lot.
People forget that Oden was picked ahead of Kevin Durant in ‘07. There is, of course, a long list of Draft night ‘what ifs’ but that is a stand-out, for sure, and so the burden of being one of the biggest busts in NBA history hangs heavily on his shoulders. Those who were tipping him to be the next Bill Russell have only been able to daydream about how things could have worked out.
Oden speaks rarely and reveals little, a shy introvert who, it seems, does all he can to hide away his seven-foot frame. He is, you could even say, self-deprecating – in an interview with a friend on the website grantland.com he describes his feelings when some kids ask for his autograph at a restaurant: “I don’t understand why they are so excited to meet me,” he says. “I’m just a person… like, why are you bothering me at dinner for a picture when I’m nothing now?”
It paints a pretty depressing picture and you can’t help but feel woefully sorry for the guy. Or hopeful. Hopeful that this time, against the odds, with pretty much nobody outside of the bottom half of Florida believing in him, he can make that comeback and be something like the player we all expected him to be.
To prove to himself, as much as anybody else, that he is not nothing.