If you read one thing today, it should be the story about Greg Oden by Mark Titus at Grantland. It is fantastic. Click the link. Go read it, I’ll wait.
Oden is an enigma, the poster child for the Blazers history of flamed out draft choices, the guy drafted before Kevin Durant, the guy with three micorofracture surgeries, the guy whose naked cell phone picture of himself ended up all over the Web.
It’s easy today for us to take guys like Oden and paint them as two-dimensional characters. Oden as guy to mock. Oden as cautionary tale. People point to Durant as the obvious choice now, but at the time know that 29 other GMs would have made the same pick because the promise of Oden was that great (and when he played healthy, he looked good). Any GM saying otherwise is lying.
But as always, the real story is more complex. Oden made mistakes, but lacked a mentor to help steer him away from others. There was no NBA veteran guiding him, which is why while he was out in his second season someone filled the void.
That’s because it wasn’t an NBA veteran who took Greg under his wing in his second season — it was his veteran cousin from the Air Force who moved into Greg’s house in Portland.
“If you know anything about guys in the Air Force,” Greg explained, “it’s that they drink a ton. My cousin got wrapped up in the NBA lifestyle and threw parties at my house all the time. So I got wrapped up in it too. When I played well, I’d drink to celebrate. And when I played poorly, I’d drink to forget. That second year in Portland I pretty much became an alcoholic.”1
The story goes on to explain that Oden’s wrist injury in college that kept him out came when his brother Anthony attacked him and Oden defended himself.
It also talks about how while at Ohio State Oden’s best friend died and how that impacted him into his rookie year in Portland.
Greg’s rookie season was over before it even began (due to a knee injury). Portland fans, who endured the injury-ravaged careers of Bill Walton and Sam Bowie, freaked out. What those fans didn’t know was that Greg’s heart was still aching because of Travis’s death; he was already headed down a destructive path of drinking and “doing things I shouldn’t have been doing” (his words at dinner). The knee surgery only made things worse.
“For starters, Portland isn’t a great city to live in if you’re a young, African American male with a lot of money,” Greg explained with an embarrassed grin. “But that’s especially true if you don’t have anybody to guide you. Since I was hurt the entire season, I was on my own a bunch and didn’t have veteran teammates around to help me adapt to the NBA lifestyle.”
Then there are those pictures of him and his… um, well he sent a girl a naked picture of himself.
“I wish it wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “But I’m not going to apologize for it. After all, I’m human and there are worse things that 21-year-olds could do. I just got caught up with women throwing themselves at me. When a girl sends me 100 pictures, I have to send something back every now and then. I’m not an a********.”
This is just a fraction of what’s in the story, you should read it.
It does not excuse Oden for his mistakes, but it gives you a picture of the real Oden, the shy guy who had to grow up in a spotlight he loathed. Still loathes. A guy who does not fit neatly into the two-dimensional boxes we try to squeeze him into. A guy who has made mistakes but has paid for them many times over.
And a guy who has not given up on an NBA comeback someday.