The simple act of playing NBA basketball after years of wondering whether he'd ever do it again has Oden feeling good, and the team success he's enjoying doesn't hurt. But more than anything, Oden is at peace with who he is.
When asked by Grantland's Mark Titus if he'd be comfortable with a legacy as an NBA benchwarmer, Oden candidly responded:
I’m over all of that. I know I’m one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it’ll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things … It’s frustrating that my body can’t do what my mind wants it to do sometimes. But worrying or complaining about it isn’t going to fix anything … I wish the circumstances would let me play more, but I certainly don’t regret coming back, and I don’t regret signing with the Heat.
Maybe that seems sad to you. Maybe hearing Oden call himself a bust and lament his body's betrayal of his dreams is unsettling. After all, it's a reminder that the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 was out of the league for nearly four years until the Heat signed him in 2013.
But that's the wrong way to look at this.
Oden is being honest. He's being realistic. He's comfortable with who he is and where he is. That's something to celebrate—especially when it comes from a guy who spent years as a lost NBA soul, battered by injuries and plagued by doubts.
Remember, Oden admitted to Titus just two years ago that he'd hit some pretty low points in his early NBA days:
My cousin got wrapped up in the NBA lifestyle and threw parties at my house all the time. So I got wrapped up in it too. When I played well, I’d drink to celebrate. And when I played poorly, I’d drink to forget. That second year in Portland I pretty much became an alcoholic.
Now, the narrative of Oden's career is a happier one. People across the league support him because they respect how much he's overcome:
It's hard to know if Oden will be a real factor in the Heat's ongoing championship run. He could still be useful as a spot starter against the right matchup, and it's possible he'll show up for a few key defensive possessions.
But what he does from now on doesn't really matter that much. His well-being isn't tied to meeting others' expectations anymore. And if he doesn't impact the postseason, he'll accept that.
Oden was forced to mature by circumstances outside his control. He survived a trial that probably would have destroyed a weaker person. So if nothing else, his cool head and realistic perspective on the game will be valuable to the Heat.
A block here or there is just fine, but Oden's worth more than that: He's a positive example now, both to his younger teammates and to players struggling throughout the NBA.
Oden may be a bust in one sense, but he's become a wild success in another. And it sounds like he's perfectly comfortable with that.
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