For most of us, having the option to retire before our 25th birthday is an unbelievable dream.
For Miami Heat center Greg Oden, it was nearly the end of his nightmare.
Massive and mobile, he had the makings of a generational talent. The No. 1 pick in 2007, it wasn't the oversized expectations or pressure to perform that did him in—a pair of bad wheels brought his downfall.
A knee surgery cost him what should have been his rookie season, more knee problems limited his actual rookie and sophomore seasons, then more trips to the operating table forced him off the floor indefinitely. He played 82 games and underwent five surgeries in five seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Oden told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports he considered hanging them up. Then, the two-time defending champion Heat threw a two-year, league minimum contract his way this summer. It may as well have been a life preserver.
On Jan. 15, more than four years after his last NBA appearance, Oden logged eight minutes in Miami's loss to the Washington Wizards. He's played three more games since, cracking the 10-minute mark for the first time in his last one.
"It was a long four years," Oden said, via Spears. "But now I'm back, I'm healthy and I'm just happy to be doing it."
Miami might be even happier to have him.
He gives this lineup size it doesn't otherwise have. A true 7-footer with a 250-pound frame to throw around in the paint, he's a potential game-changer for the Heat's inevitable postseason meeting with the Indiana Pacers and their mountain in the middle, Roy Hibbert.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is looking that far down the road. But he's seeing things now that make his new big man so intriguing for the future, he said, via B/R's Ethan Skolnick:
Obviously, what you're seeing is a little bit of missed timing from time off. But if you look at the glass half full—that's what you can't teach in this game. He's in the right spots. It's just a matter of time before those plays be made. And we don't have anybody else on our roster who can make those type of plays.
This couldn't have been the career path that Oden saw for himself. At one time, some saw him as the type of force that could change a franchise's fortune on his own:
His body never allowed him to reach that level.
Still, the fact that he's actually making any kind of difference for an NBA team is nothing short of a miracle.
His past wasn't the one he'd planned, but he's found his way to a present that felt impossible to reach.