Despite a constant uphill battle against his own knees, Greg Oden has accompanied the Miami Heat on their current road trip. He’s still far from playing, but he will return to the Moda Center tonight in an all too familiar sideline suit. This will be the former number one pick’s first time returning to the site of his greatest failures, disappointments, and shame.
The Portland Trail Blazers have been through a lot since drafting Oden in 2007. There are many who blame him for the collapse of what was supposed to be our greatest team. Whether or not that is fair has become a subject of tired debate, so I will let it rest. Most of us know how his injuries affected the franchise and the fans for many years.
In a rare interview with Grantland’s Mark Titus in 2012, Greg Oden stated that the most difficult part about the injuries was being unable to prove his worth to all those who criticized him as a player. Nearly two years later, he’s in the same boat, but in much more forgiving Miami waters. They don’t need or expect him to perform as Portland did.
“That’s the worst part about all of the injuries and the criticism. It would be one thing if I had been healthy for five years and just sucked when I was on the court, but I can’t prove what I can do because I can’t stay healthy. Not having control over the situation makes it tough.”
I can’t imagine tonight will be a pleasant experience for Greg Oden. The best he can hope for from the Portland crowd is a mixed reaction when his face appears on the jumbotron. Trail Blazers fans have a reputation for being some of the best in the NBA, but no Portland player in recent history has garnered as much reckless hate as Oden has (maybe Raymond Felton?).
But I’m curious—When he’s ready for his close-up in front of a sold out Moda Center, will you be clapping or booing? There are plenty of reasons to do either, and the way Oden’s NBA career has unfolded is terribly polarizing. How do you feel about the 7’0” enigma that divided a basketball culture built on unity? Does he deserve jeering for his journey, or applause for his destination?