If you believe in fate, then you would agree that Greg Oden’s fate is as ugly as a sloth.
Lets rewind to June 28, 2007. It was the night of the 2007 NBA Draft, and all eyes were on the Portland Trail Blazers. Earlier that month the Trail Blazers won the NBA Lottery, and with that earned the right to make the first choice in the draft.
Now lets rewind again to December 2, 2006. Greg Oden, the number one high school recruit and the two-time defending Gatorade high school basketball player of the year, made his along awaited college debut as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes basketball team.
Oden, who missed the first few games of the season after recovering from surgery on his right hand, was considered the best high school basketball player since LeBron James. He was the face of the Buckeyes 2006 recruiting class, known as the “Thad Five.” With high school teammate and friend Mike Conley Jr. following his lead, combined with highly touted recruits Daequan Cook, David Lighty, and Othello Hunter, Ohio State was considered a national title contender and future powerhouse in college basketball.
When Oden played, he was dominant. In his one season at Ohio State, Oden averaged 16ppg, 10rpg, and just over three blocks per game. Even more impressive, because Oden played with a cast on his right wrist for most of the season, he learned to shoot free throws with his left hand. He was pretty good at it too, shooting 63% from the free throw line.
After his freshman season in which he led Ohio State to the National Title game and was drowned with numerous postseason awards, Oden declared himself eligible for the 2007 NBA Draft.
Before the college basketball season began, Oden was the clear-cut #1 prospect in the draft. With his great defensive mindset and his strength as an offensive juggernaut, many draft analysts considered Oden to be the best center to come into the league since Lew Alcindor.
However by season’s end, another freshman sensation had made an impressive case to be deserving of the number one overall draft pick. Kevin Durant (who I’m sure at this point you know far better than Greg Oden) was the 2007 Naismith Player of the Year, averaging a ridiculous 25.8ppg in his one year as a Texas Longhorn. Leading up to the draft, Durant was described as one of the most unique players the game had seen since the likes of Magic Johnson. At 6’9,” he had the ball handling skills of a point guard, and virtually played the position as the go-to guy at Texas.
When he too declared himself eligible for the draft, some analysts and scouts began to flip the script on Oden and quickly fell in love with Durant.
Now fast-forward up to “The Night:” June 28, 2007. The Trail Blazers were on the clock and had their choice between the two outright best players in the draft; two completely different types of players, both with superstar potential. It seemed like the best of both worlds.
As this video shows, the first man to shake commissioner David Stern’s hand was indeed Greg Oden.
From this point on, things went from good, to bad, to ugly for Oden and the Trail Blazers.
A month before the 2007 NBA season was set to begin, Oden was forced to have microfacture knee surgery on his right knee, officially ending his rookie season before it had even begun.
He came back in 2008, with his long awaited debut lasting a total of 13 minutes. He left his first career NBA game after suffering a foot injury. He would return two weeks later, and finish his first season in the NBA with a respectable 61 games played, while averaging 9ppg in 22 minutes of game-play per night.
During that season, Oden showed flashes of what made him worthy of the #1 pick. He was a steady force in the paint while continuing to develop his offensive game at the NBA level. Assuming Oden could stay on the court, it was thought that the Trail Blazers would have something to be excited about with a young nucleolus of players slowly developing into a force within the Western Conference.
Twenty games into the 2009 season, the Trail Blazers were off to a promising start at 12-8 and were looking better each and every game. Oden himself was off to an impressive start, averaging 11ppg and 8.5rbg as the definitive starting center for the young upstart Blazers.
But on December 5, 2009 everything came crashing down for Oden and the Trail Blazers (literally).
Oden hasn’t played in a game since this graphic injury.
After that harsh injury, Oden missed the rest of the 2009 season and had surgery to repair his torn left patella. Recovering and rehabbing from multiple surgeries since that horrific night, it’s been four years since Greg Oden has played on an NBA court.
Over that time span, the guy drafted right after him, Kevin Durant, has gone on to become one of the elite players in the NBA. He’s a four-time All-Star, a four-time NBA All-First Team selection, a three-time NBA scoring champion, and an Olympic Gold medalist. He’s led his Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals, and has become the face of a new era in basketball. That’s what you call an impressive resume.
Not to bark on this too much, but clearly the Trail Blazers regret choosing Oden over Durant.
During that four-year time span, we have quickly forgotten about Oden’s once promising career and all of the potential we once claimed he possessed.
Oden was always a reserved and shy player off the court, but in this intriguing 2012 Grantland piece written by Oden’s childhood friend (and my boyhood idol) Mark Titus, Oden opened up about his disappointing career in the NBA, and the toll it had taken on his state of mind.
Back when that article was originally published, it had been quite some time since the name Greg Oden had popped into my mind. Like most basketball fans, I had completely forgotten about him, even the part of his career when he actually played well at Ohio State. But after reading that article, I felt sorry for Oden. In the minds of fans everywhere, Oden became just another big tall dude who flunked out of the NBA and disappointed his believers.
But just when we all thought Oden’s basketball career was over, he vowed to return to the game, even if it wasn’t meant to last for very long. On August 7, 2013 Oden signed with the two-time defending champs, the Miami Heat. He didn’t play in last nights’ game against the Chicago Bulls, but Oden says he’ll be ready to suit up when his team needs him, whenever that may be.
Although Oden is only 25 (which still amazes me) it seems like his basketball journey has lasted a lifetime. He’s risen to the top of the mountain, and he’s fallen to the bottom just as quickly. With the help of his new friend and reigning MVP LeBron James, Oden has been given a second chance to slowly climb back to the top once again, and prove his company of doubters that they were wrong about his resilience to get back on the court and play basketball again.
No one knows for sure just how effective Oden will be in his second life as an NBA center, not even Oden himself. But one can only hope that he will rise above his past and make the most of the time he has left in the NBA, even if it only last for a single minute.