Greg Oden knows he'll never be able to live up to the modern-day Bill Russell comparisons he heard while in high school. He's just glad to be stepping onto a basketball court—especially after doctors recommended he walk away from the game for good.
The newly minted Miami Heat center spoke with the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman this week, marking the first in-depth interview he's given since joining the defending champs. The 2007 No. 1 overall pick opened up about his individual expectations, team expectations and what it means to play with LeBron James.
He also spoke of advice he's received lately, amid talk of multiple knee surgeries and personal problems. According to the former Ohio State star, one conversation with a doctor last year stood out:
After that surgery in 2012, my last surgery, the doctor said, "Just be a regular person, go live life. Be a regular person. You would be perfectly fine walking out of this place and not have to worry about any rehab or anything."
Oden heeded his doctor's advice for all of about two weeks. But before too long, the competitive gene began enveloping him again.
"And I did, and then two weeks later, I was stuck on NBA TV," Oden continued. "That's just what I watch every day. I turn on TV and I'm watching NBA TV. I just wanted to play basketball. That's my love; that's what I wanted to do."
Oden will get that opportunity next season. The 25-year-old center agreed to a two-year, $2.2 million contract with the Heat in early August, spurning a handful of other offers.
He has not battled in the paint on an NBA floor since a Dec. 5, 2009 game against the Houston Rockets, when he was still considered the future of the Portland Trail Blazers franchise. Portland finally released Oden in March 2012, and he chose to sit out last season to work on fully recovering from three microfracture surgeries on his knees.
The near-four-year absence from the game—it will have been 1,424 days since his last NBA appearance if he suits up opening night—leaves even Oden fully aware of his limitations:
I got an old body. I'm going to put it like that. I understand. My body is not going to be when I was 18, able to run all day and jump over people. I can't do that now. It's just not going to happen. My knees, the wear and tear of the surgeries, I understand that. But I'm going to play as hard as I can, and I'm going to try to jump over people, and I'm going to try to run all day. If my body lets me, I'll do it.
A big-bodied seven-footer coming out of college, Oden was infamously selected by Portland over Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA draft. While injuries derailed his career to the point where he's played in only 82 games, he was effective during those minutes. He holds career per-36-minute averages of 15.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest.
Miami won't expect that level of production. The Heat are the NBA's two-time defending champions, and they signed Oden with the intention of bringing him along slowly. But even with tempered expectations, Oden cannot hide his glee about potentially sharing the floor with this luminous roster:
I'm beyond excited. I'm a Miami Heat. I don't know how to say it right. My friends are like, "Why do you stutter every time you say it?" To me, it's not real yet. I'm going to be there Monday and I'm excited. It's been such a long road.