Eight years of Greg Oden has led him here. The former number one pick of the Portland Trailblazers is going to China, paid one million and change to play in Asia (as reported by Real GM). Out of sight, out of mind? Perhaps. In his absence, the NBA will do the usual NBA things, vacation in August and wait for the training camps to begin in late September. That Oden doesn’t register on the NBA radar is a reversal of fortune for the league that cast Oden to superlative heights based solely on potential.
Frequently injured, Oden’s reality could never meet the expectations of where he was drafted. The sheer aesthetic of his size has cast him into a narrative eight years later: he is a disappointment or he is a cautionary tale or he is an abuser or he is a bust. The man-child, the one year college player from Ohio State who was supposed to dominate, turned into a ghost, disappearing almost as quickly as the idea of him- a dominant seven footer- had tongues wagging about his promise.
It’s hard to be a savior. The Portland Trailblazers did what other organizations have done for years, leaning comfortably on the myth of size and in that Greg Oden was a linear toss back to another era in the NBA where big men ruled the lane and were unmatched in size, skill and more importantly, in ability. From George Mikan to Artis Gilmore, from Wilt Chamberlain to Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA game was the size game. It mattered. Enter Greg Oden. Enter the draft of 2007. Enter Kevin Durant.
Leading up to the draft there was considerable talk about Oden not being the number one pick. The argument was based on Kevin Durant and his scoring ability. There was a sense you knew what Durant could do in the NBA, despite his slim frame. Oden at a much bigger weight was thought, at the very least, to be able to rebound and blocks shots, to be a presence at the rim. But there were always whispers about his motor, questions about how much he really loved playing basketball.
The Oden-NBA chronicles are not pretty. When he couldn’t stay healthy (105 games played) he illicted sympathy for the injury roulette wheel that had him spinning out of control. His place on the Miami Heat roster in 2013 was applauded because resurrection projects are part romance, part cross your fingers and hope. But when Oden was arrested for punching his girlfriend in the face, the NBA turned their back. They didn’t need Oden anymore even after he accepted a plea deal with prosecutors because, while Oden had stayed the same, the NBA game had matured. Big men were no longer the plat du jour of the league, offenses became more explosive, the best players were guards and small forwards.
Now a member of the Jiangsu Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association, Oden hopes to reclaim what he has lost. He didn’t play a NBA game before having microfracture surgery in 2007. He missed the season. Two seasons later (2009) he had surgery for a broken left patella. A year later, he had a second microfracture surgery. In 2012, he had this third microfracture surgery.
photo via llananaba