The NBA career of Greg Oden has been a major disappointment, to put it mildly. The top pick of the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2007 draft, Oden entered the NBA as the best American big man prospect since Shaquille O'Neal. He seemed destined for several championships and perennial status as the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
Then Oden required microfracture surgery on his right knee before his rookie season, underwent two more microfracture surgeries on the left knee, managed to play in only 82 (quite impressive) games with the Blazers overall, admitted to drinking heavily to put up with it all, and finally made his way to the Miami Heat this summer in the hopes of developing a real career, although a very different one than had once been planned.
On Wednesday night, Oden was finally made active for his first regular-season game of the season, an eventual 114-97 road loss to the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center. In the midst of a dominant first half by the Wizards, Oden entered the game in the second quarter, seeing an NBA court for the first time since December 5, 2009. His first touch, an offensive rebound off Marcin Gortat's block of Dwyane Wade, ended up in a two-handed slam:
That first dunk was somewhat reminiscent of Oden's first action in the preseason, when he also dunked on his first touch.
Oden added two free throws and another dunk off a pick-and-roll with LeBron James for six points in his second-quarter stint, earning a second-half start in the process. While he didn't put up any positive stats in those three minutes of action, his line for the night ended up being pretty impressive: six points on 2-of-3 FG and 2-of-2 FT, two rebounds, and +8 in eight minutes of play.
With Oden, the question is always his health. We don't know how his body will recover from playing in a game, whether his health will continue to improve, or even if Heat coach Erik Spoelstra trusts him with extended minutes in non-blowouts. Oden presumably wants a career, not just a heartwarming moment or two, and that goal still remains very much in doubt.
However, it's difficult to watch him and not smile at the fact that he's on an NBA court in the first place, let alone that he made a few positive plays. There's no certainty that he'll reach his intended destination, but his being on the journey at all inspires good feelings.
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