Ten years ago, WW's Best of Portland issue hit the stands with an exciting young NBA prospect on the cover.
Greg Oden, we declared, was Portland's "Best Reason to Believe Again."
"The expectations that have been placed on this 19-year-old rookie are, frankly, insane," we wrote. "Can he save the franchise? Can he bring us the trophy? Can he restore the glory of the Rip City era? Can he solve the crisis in the Middle East?"
So, about that.
ESPN the Magazine has its Body issue on stands this week, anchored by a story about how Oden's body broke down during his car wreck of a career with the Portland Trail Blazers. The story is timed to Oden's return to Ohio State University to try and finish his degree—an optimistic note struck in what is otherwise an awfully sad story.
He wanted to be a dentist or a movie critic. He was so shy he barely left his Portland house, then stopped leaving his bedroom. He mixed booze with painkillers and sleeping pills in order to get to bed, and did not care if he ever woke up.
The story also takes an unblinking look at Oden's domestic abuse of his girlfriend, who he hit in the face during a drunken fight.
Distressing accounts of Oden’s time in Portland are nothing new—there was one a few years back that noted he took in a blind puppy, which promptly fell to its death from a balcony—but this one feels less self-pitying than a frank analysis of how a professional athlete’s exalted life can become an isolating curse.
Guilty and ashamed, Oden apologized to Trail Blazers management before his 2007 and 2009 surgeries. He was easy to text but hard to get on the phone. “I don’t know that he had a trusted male figure in his life that could give him good advice,” Shelt says. Oden wanted out. He would look at pills and ask, Does it make you drowsy? All right, I’m taking it. “I was like, ‘If I don’t wake up, whatever,'” he says.
The story basically serves as an antidote to the griping of Blazer fans who see Kevin Durant hoisting a championship trophy. Portland’s draft pick was a disaster—but mostly for the guy who was picked.
Oden is on track to receive his degree from Ohio State in two years.