"I'm sorry," Oden told the Trail Blazers general manager, although he could have been saying it to a city whose sporting pulse beats to the Blazers and no one else, a region that had hitched its wagon of hope on the promise of the 7-footer from Ohio State.
And suddenly it was all about being sorry and being worried and feeling fear of what might be next.
Just like that, Oden is out for the season when what was supposed to be arthroscopic surgery on his right knee turned out to be a far more serious microfracture procedure.
"He and his mother must have said (sorry) 20 times," Pritchard said. "I can't overemphasize how bad he felt coming out of it."
So count Greg Oden, one of Portland's newest residents, as feeling just as glum and cloudy as everyone else.
"Gloom and doom," said John Canzano, a sports columnist for the Oregonian and talk show host at 750 KXL. "A lot of people are talking about Sam Bowie."
That's the scary part for Portland. Oden is still young; others, such as Amare Stoudemire and Jason Kidd, have returned mostly to form after microfracture surgery. In a lot of places this would be a bad turn, but not a depression-inducing one. The kid will be back, right?
But in Portland, the memory of the franchise selecting Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft lingers. Bowie went on to deal with seemingly endless injuries as Jordan became Jordan. So the fear of the worse case scenario, of history repeating itself, is palpable.
There is a sense this is just another bad break for a franchise that has seen so many, that despite having all the money of billionaire owner Paul Allen, hasn't won a title in going on three decades.
"It's the curse of the accidental billionaire," Canzano said. "Anything Paul Allen touches."
Is Oden, who already dealt with a major wrist injury as a collegiate player, injury prone? Is this just the first hospital apology?
And did the Blazers just let another Jordan pass by when they chose Oden over Kevin Durant, the gifted forward out of the University of Texas that wound up at rival Seattle no less?
"We picked the right player," Pritchard said. "Greg is a world-class human being. He is going to be a great basketball player."
According to all the medical people, that is true. Oden should recover and return to form. But the question remains whether the Blazers were diligent enough in checking out Oden's knee prior to the draft, especially after a number of NBA executives told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that his body had red flags all over it.
Pritchard said the team had a series of doctors examine Oden's medical records and an MRI on the knee came back "pristine."
"I don't see how the MRI (could have) missed it," Pritchard said.
So this was just bad luck, they believe. Perhaps it was the result of Oden working out on a track last week, after which his knee swelled up.
"Injuries, surgeries, they happen," said coach Nate McMillan.
If anything, Pritchard said, the Blazers are more convinced now that they did the right thing than ever. The way Oden needlessly apologized, the way the entire weight of the franchise was clearly on his shoulders, the way he has handled this disappointment with dignity tells them this kid is special off the court.
But they better hope the injuries cease, if only for the mental health of their passionate fans.
For the sporting obsessed in Portland, there is the Trail Blazers and nothing else. This is the only professional sports franchise. Oregon and Oregon State operate down Interstate-5, but college sports never overwhelm a big city the way the pros do. Besides, those two have combined for one Rose Bowl and no Final Fours in the past 40 years – they've been good but not great.
The Blazers are the obsession. "It's all your eggs in one basket," Canzano said. For years they enjoyed the longest sell-out streak in the NBA. And even after losing seasons and the Jailblazers era, the fans were ready to return if there was something to return to.
The city went nuts when Portland unexpectedly won the draft lottery last spring. In the run-up to the draft, the debate between taking Oden or Durant was the topic in newspapers, radio, coffee shops, bars, even on billboards the team erected asking motorists to honk once for Oden, twice for Durant.
When it chose Oden, the team sold 3,000 season tickets in two weeks. The city held a welcoming party for the 19-year-old at Pioneer Courthouse Square downtown and 6,000 people showed up. And once the city began getting to know this humble Midwesterner with the oversized personality, the love affair grew.
The Blazers were back. And now, there is this, their new star is out for the season.
So it is suddenly doom and gloom; questions and second-guessing; worries and wonder; Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan.
"I'm sorry," Oden kept saying, even as Pritchard kept telling him he had nothing to apologize about.
In Portland, those were two words they never wanted to hear. And after this stomach punch of a day, will forever hold their breath that they never have to again.
- Kevin Pritchard
- Michael Jordan