The curiously clandestine narrative that is Greg Oden's basketball career reached an inspiring new juncture Wednesday night. The latest chapter came by way of a two-handed dunk in the second quarter of the Miami Heat's 108-95 preseason win over the New Orleans Pelicans. For the Heat, Oden's dunk meant two points in a rather trivial preseason tuneup that saw Lebron James and Dwyane Wade combine for an unobtrusive 52 points. For Oden, however, that dunk meant a whole lot more.
Seeing Oden's unmistakable 7'0" frame on an NBA basketball court Wednesday night was an intense and wistful reminder of his emergence into the basketball world nearly a decade ago.
As a high schooler in Indianapolis, Oden quickly became the most sought after recruit in America. The humble big man, who's physique has changed little since graduating from Lawrence North, had scouts salivating over his limitless potential. He was a man playing amongst boys, scoring at will and exhibiting athleticism seldom seen in players his size. After winning back-to-back Gatorade National Player of the Year titles, Oden committed to Ohio State along with high school teammate Mike Conley Jr. Oden missed the beginning of his season at Ohio State while recovering from a foreshadowing wrist surgery. However, he would go on to lead the Buckeyes to the 2007 NCAA National Championship game, earning him the title of consensus All-American.
Surrounded by familiar lofty expectations, Oden was then selected by the Portland Trailblazers with the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.
Now, six years and five seasons later, Oden has appeared in a total of 82 NBA games, via NBA.com. And the three minutes and 59 seconds that Oden logged Wednesday night marked his first NBA appearance in 1,418 days.
The timeline of Oden's NBA career is almost too painful to expound upon. He has moved across the spectrum of unfavorable NBA identities. He was labeled a "disappointment" when he missed his rookie season in its entirety. The label turned to "injury-prone" when he suffered two more injuries the next year. He has since been regarded as a "bust," a term usually attached to lottery picks who fail to adapt to the professional game, who flounder through a handful of seasons trying desperately to prove their worth, muffing opportunities en route to irrelevance.
Oden, however, finds himself in something of a unique existence. His story has outlasted the confines of traditional NBA archetypes. Having spent so much time away from the game, Oden has rid himself of one of the only consistencies in his tumultuous career: expectations.
He is no longer the towering 18-year-old wunderkind fielding scholarship offers from the nation's most prestigious college programs. Nor is he the diaper dandy navigating his way through the bright lights of March Madness. And it feels like so long ago that he towered over David Stern in a goofy draft-day baseball cap, expected to turn a franchise into an instant contender.
Oden's return to the NBA is virtually unprecedented. While he is unproven, he is also relatively untested. He is a 25-year-old former No. 1 overall pick who has played in enough games to equate to only one full season.
With the Heat, he will be surrounded by some of the league's best players, and mentored by one of the league's finest coaches.
Conjecture aside, Oden will at least get the semblance of a fresh start in Miami. Here's to hoping he makes the most of it.