It’s a road most of us couldn’t have travelled.
At some point, it probably would have been easier to give up. Not after the first surgery. Not even after the second. But after the third. Or maybe at some point during the years between his last NBA game and today.
He hasn’t played since last decade, and it’s almost 2014. Let that sink in.
But Greg Oden persisted. Facing demons both psychological and physical, he battled on.
He stepped on the court, gaze steely. He blew into his hands as if warming them could make him feel any more sure of himself, reminding him of the physical specimen he once was or distancing himself from the slow and plodding player he was becoming.
Teammates bumped him as he checked in. Chris Bosh gave an encouraging slap. And the ball’s thrown in play.
He sets a hard screen above the free throw line. Dives down. Gets in position, feet twice as wide as shoulder length to make room for himself. He dribbles hard. Pump fakes. And goes up fast, not with the explosion he once had, but fast, and muscles a dunk that shook the backboard, kicking his feet and slapping the glass on his way down in vintage Oden fashion.
I’ll admit it: when I clicked on the link showing his debut with the Miami Heat, I’m not sure what I expected. 45 seconds of him shuffling around the court, maybe. But to see a play run just for him, and for him to execute it with such ease despite having not played a game in nearly four years, despite 3 major knee surgeries, despite the added weight… it nearly brought me to tears.
What was equally impressive, if not as flashy, came at the end of that clip: his defense, rotating smoothly, backpedaling comfortably, moving laterally better than most men his size.
It didn’t matter that he ended up playing 4 minutes. It didn’t matter that his dunk was his only shot attempt of the game, or that he racked up 2 fouls and turned the ball over twice.
And it doesn’t even matter if his knee gave out tomorrow on his way to the practice facility, career cut short without ever getting to step on the court again.
What matters is that he could have given up. Maybe he was even told to call it a career, when it seemed impossible that his body could take the strain of regular workouts and practices, let alone an NBA game.
But he didn’t.
Greg Oden is an inspiration. And when I wrote that he would eventually fail, well… I hope more than anything that he makes me and everyone else a fool.
Because nobody in sports today deserves a taste of success more than Greg. Even if it’s fleeting.
Go get ‘em, big fella.