Portland fans feel the hurt of the Sam Bowie debacle more often than we probably should. I mean, after all, it was 1984 when we took him with the second pick in the draft—25 years ago! Maybe we should move on, right? Lots of No. 2 picks have been as bad or worse since then: Danny Ferry, Shawn Bradley, Stromile Swift, Darko Milicic. Those teams have moved on, right?
Perhaps, but they didn't have a chance at drafting the greatest player to ever play the game.
So instead of Michael Jordan, the Trail Blazers had Bowie. And truth be told, the only thing that got under the skin of Blazer fans at the time was losing the coin toss for the No. 1 pick with Houston that would have landed us Hakeem Olajuwon, which not only would have given us the center we needed, it would have reunited college teammates and best friends, Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Everybody figured Olajuwon would win a couple of rings but nobody could have known at the time that Jordan would lead the Bulls to six championships.
All of that being said, the general consensus around the league was that Bowie was still going to be a great player as well. He had a slightly underwhelming rookie season but did manage to average 8.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game that year. He showed signs that he could even become a decent offensive player, though the knock on him was he was a little soft.
Less than halfway through Bowie's second season, he broke his leg and was never the same again. He only played 25 more games for the Trail Blazers after that and never played 70 games in an NBA season, going through five leg surgeries in less than 10 years.
Naturally, when the Blazers drafted Greg Oden No. 1 in 2007 and he went down with a knee injury and missed all of the '07-'08 season while recovering, the comparisons to Bowie began. The hurt of Sam Bowie is being felt by many all over again. We are sensitive to these type of things. And now, in Oden's actual rookie season, he has missed 13 games (and is out for at least four more) with foot and knee problems.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard a Blazers fan refer to Oden as Sam Bowie Part Deux, I'd have enough money to buy Mr. Oden some diamond-encrusted crutches.
But I cringe when I hear the comparisons.
It's way too early to call Oden a bust. He's still so young. The dude had his first legal alcoholic beverage just over a month ago!
Give him a break, people.
I've never really bought into the idea of an athlete being "injury prone." You hear that a lot, especially in fantasy leagues: "Oh I wouldn't take a chance on him, he's injury prone." Is there really such thing as being any more prone to injury than another guy, or is there just good luck and bad luck?
So far, Oden has had a string of bad luck, that's for sure, but I'm not going to go as far as calling the guy injury prone. He could, for all we know, come back from his latest bone chip in about a week and never miss more than 5-10 games in a season again.
The bigger issue here is not whether Oden is another Sam Bowie, but if he'll ever even be an All-Star. Let's be honest, in the games he has played in this season he's not exactly setting the world on fire like we thought he would.
Remember, before the injuries, before the Bowie comparisons, when he was drafted, he was likened to the great centers who have ever played the game: David Robinson, Bill Russell, Patrick Ewing, etc. Those three guys, along with most Hall of Fame centers, were 20-and-10 guys their rookie seasons. They were so dominant, it didn't take them two to three years to adjust to the league. The league had to adjust to them.
Greg Oden is averaging 9.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks. I went back and took a look at every center who has made at least two All-Star games in the last 25 years. There are 22 of them. Of those 22, only four had worse rookie seasons than Oden is having, statistically speaking: Jermaine O'Neal, Ben Wallace, Kevin Duckworth, and Brad Miller.
Blazer fans are remember two of those guys well. Two of the 22 on the list had very comparable rookie numbers statistically: Bill Laimbeer and Robert Parish. Laimbeer, though, was an outside player on offense, so not really comparing apples to apples when looking at Oden.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Oden's not the second coming of David Robinson, and he's not the second coming of Sam Bowie, either.
He's Robert Parish!
Parish averaged 9.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks his rookie season. Eerily similar numbers to Oden's. He was a nine-time All-Star and the starting center on two NBA championship teams. Although he had a solid low post game, he was known more for his rebounding and defense than anything else, and though he was never really a threat to win an MVP, he was the key piece to many great teams.
This is refreshing, and it gives me a whole new light to look at Oden in. If we would all stop expecting him to be the next great center and just realize he's more likely one piece of our eventual championship puzzle, he will stop feeling all the pressure, and maybe even become magically less injury prone.