It was in 2008 that NBA TV aired an “NBA Roundtable” special that highlighted who was unanimously considered to be the future of the center position: Greg Oden. Oden was in the presence of greatness, surrounded by NBA hall of famers that included Bill Russell and Bill Walton, being prepared with priceless guidance as a future shoe-in for hall of fame recognition.
The 20-year-old New York native had all the skills and size to burn brightly in the otherwise waning years of the NBA center. Though forced to sit out the first half of the season with a wrist injury as a college freshman at Ohio State University, Oden imposed his will in The Big Ten conference once medically cleared by doctors. He was called a “once in a decade player” by NBA veteran Steve Kerr, and led his team to the National title game in 2007 where he posted 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots in a loss to Florida. The center was the most sought after basketball player on the planet, being even more coveted by NBA owners than second best classmate, Kevin Durant.
But Oden’s guaranteed ticket to greatness was never meant to be, and soon after being selected as the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers, the speeding hype train was de-railed by micro fracture surgery that caused him to miss his entire rookie season. He would never be the same.
Over the next six years, Oden would fade into obscurity, succumbing to re-occurring injuries that required several trips to the operating table, causing to a downward spiral that led to a battle with alcohol addiction. In 2012, the once promising star was waived by the Blazers, casting him out into the dense thicket of free agent purgatory.
Lucky for Oden, however, a team like the Miami Heat exists. Miami is a star studded squad that has enough wiggle room in the talent pool to take on projects such as injured castaways and past their prime has-beens. Oden fits perfectly into what he refers to as the Miami Heat “plan” to slowly bring him into relevance. For the past 5 months, the 25-year-old has been a stoic figure in the Miami locker room, ever focused on the ultimate goal of suiting up and taking the court for the first time in over four years. He has rehabbed, rested, iced, scrimmaged, and dreamed about that extraordinary moment of return. Finally, on January 15th, that moment came.
In an uncharacteristic move, Miami dug itself into an early 34-point deficit to the Washington Wizards. With six minutes remaining in the first half, head coach Erik Spoelstra called Oden’s number from the bench, and at long last, the seven-footer stepped into a professional basketball game for the first time in over 1,500 days. Four years of battling micro fracture surgeries, broken kneecaps, and alcoholism had brought him to this moment.
Oden has been gifted a second chance in Miami, and though the once Bright Future of Basketball may never be the player he once was, surrounding himself with the right teammates may enable him to become a productive piece once again. Already, flashes of his former brilliance have shined on the court. Within 30 seconds of his return, Oden soared above the competition, snatching up an offensive rebound and throwing the ball through the hoop, releasing all the thunderous fury he had been bottling up in his broken body since 2009. The entire Miami bench rose to their feet. The scoreboard read that the Heat were down by 32 points as Oden jogged up the court, but that did not matter. It was the sweetest of victories.