Many Portlanders with a 2007 vintage or older have Greg Oden stories. There was the time the 2007 No. 1 overall pick was spotted, photographed and recorded on video shopping at Haggen in Tualatin. There were sightings of G.O. walking a pair of small dogs in South West Portland just west of Portland State.
Greg Oden, hard to miss in a crowd, became known for crazy parties at his suburban manse during the first of his NBA seasons missed due to one knee injury or another. Oden made the afternoon of some 24-Hour Fitness gym rats when he crashed their pick-up game. For his trouble, Oden got sold out to the papers and reprimanded by the team and in the comments section of OregonLive. He also spent part of the 2009-10 season attending classes at PSU in an attempt to finish the college education he started at Ohio State University.
The Greg Oden saga in Portland was equal parts inspiring—through his work with Oregon Mentors TEAM Oden had a positive impact on the lives of many struggling youths in the Portland metro area—and sordid. Everybody remembers those pictures.
The through-line of all the stories involving Greg Oden and his time with the Blazers, which lasted from his selection in the 2007 draft to being summarily dismissed in the fire sale that effectively ended the 2011-12 season and closed the Nate McMillan era, is that none of them included basketball. Not NBA basketball, anyway.
Spread out of parts of five seasons, Greg Oden logged a total of 82 games played. Rather poetic, really, considering 82 is the number of games in one NBA regular season.
With so much baggage, so little to show for his efforts, and a legacy long since tarnished, Greg Oden will make his return to the NBA at the start of the 2012-13 season as a member of the recently crowned two-time NBA Champion Miami Heat.
That’s where the new Greg Oden stories will begin.
According to his former AAU teammate and Grantland contributor Mark Titus, Oden has worked himself back to something close to game shape. Hampered by a number of very serious knee injuries, Oden is not expected to be the specimen he was at Ohio State or as a Blazer in 2008-09—his first, and best, official season in the NBA.
He might play. He might not. Either way, at just 25 years old and playing for the league minimum salary, Oden is a steal for the Heat. He won’t be the focal point of Miami’s quest for a third ring, but for around a million dollars and maybe 10-15 minutes a night, LeBron and co. could do significantly worse.
“There’s a lot to be excited about in joining the NBA champions, getting to play with some great players, and living in Miami,” Oden said to Titus in an exclusive interview for Grantland and ESPN. “But honestly, the thing I’m most excited about is just being able to play basketball again. It’s been a long and challenging road back, so just having the chance to play the game I love again has me more excited than anything else.”
Oden last participated in a professional basketball game on the night of Dec. 5, 2009. That evening, behind 28 points from Brando Roy (remember him?), the Blazers knocked off the Houston Rockets. G.O.’s night ended four minutes and 15 seconds after it began.
Blazer fans watched in stunned silence as Oden was carted off the floor that night. Nobody could be sure that was the last time they’d see the big guy in a Blazer jersey, but the faithful could be forgiven if they thought, “Here we go again.”
That Oden has spent so much time away from the NBA game is part of the reason what remains of the Greg Oden era in Portland is dozens of non-basketball related stories. The fact remains, though, that when Oden played, especially down the stretch of the Blazers’ 54-win 08-09 campaign, he was a force to be reckoned with.
It will be in the spirit of those stories—the time he hip-checked his now teammate Ray Allen into the first row of seats at the Rose Garden in a Blazer win over the Boston Celtics or the time he scored 24 points and grabbed 15 rebounds against the Milwaukee Bucks or when he laughed at a lowly Blazer Sports Reporter Intern who asked him if he was finally having some fun on the basketball court—that Oden will be remembered when he returns to the Rose Garden in the upcoming season.
Oden’s ovation won’t match the one given Brandon Roy last season—that ovation tempered some by the emergence of Rip City’s newest favorite-in-chief Damian Lillard—but he’ll likely be shown some gratitude.
It wasn’t Oden’s fault his knees betrayed him. It wasn’t his fault that Kevin Durant turned out to be not of this planet. Oden’s career in Portland was a train wreck in slow motion. His social life was consistent tabloid fodder in a town almost totally devoid of tabloids. What’s not to love about that?
It seems only fitting that Greg Oden gets a second act and a chance to write some new stories that, hopefully, will include at least a little bit of basketball.