Eight years after he was the No. 1 pick, three years after he was waived (for the first time), Greg Oden’s potential still turns head. Even from China.
The 7-foot Ohio State product, grabbed by Portland ahead of Kevin Durant in 2007, dealt with surgeries and recoveries for his NBA entirety, a start-and-stop that never quite started. He has become a cautionary tale, a player so filled with potential but so lacking in health. With each knee surgery came a sigh, a what-could-have-been longing for the center whom Steve Kerr called a “once-in-a-decade player.”
But Oden insists his story still is being written, and he’s taken to the Chinese Basketball Association when no NBA team would take a flier. After one game with the Jiangsu Dragons, the NBA and its fans are reminded of just what a special talent he is.
Oden put up 19 points, 23 rebounds and four blocks in 17 minutes, an otherworldly performance in another world on Sunday. The Chinese league is not the NBA, of course — this is the same league Stephon Marbury dominated and players such as Steve Francis, Gilbert Arenas and Tracy McGrady made stops at — but still, that statline in a 79-76 win reminds of the optimism that once followed Oden wherever he went.
Then came the knee injuries. Then came the foot injuries. Then came a few more knee injuries. He had three straight years cut short by knee injuries — both right and left — and played just 82 total games in five years with the Trail Blazers.
He caught on with LeBron James and Miami in 2013-14, but looked a hobbled shadow of the player he used to be. As the Heat fell to the Spurs in the NBA Finals, Oden watched from the bench.
Now, the comeback tour, he hopes, beginning in China. It’s off to a good start.