I can’t help it. I’ll be watching a Blazers games, and the camera will focus on Greg Oden sitting disinterestedly on the end of the bench. Except that I don’t see Oden. What I see is the ghost of Sam Bowie…and it feels like déjà vu all over again.
Most of us know the story by now. The Blazers had the #1 pick in the 1983 draft. They could have drafted Michael Jordan (just think of the possibilities that might have brought to Puddletown). Instead they drafted Bowie, a gifted center from Kentucky who went on to…raise race horses in the Bluegrass State. Bowie came to Portland amid high hopes and expectation, but his body just wasn’t up to the rigors of the NBA. Among the low points of his medical history as a Blazer was one of the most gruesome leg injuries you’ll ever see. Bowie arrived in Portland as the solution. The problem was that his body just couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
Not so very long ago, Blazers fans debated drafting Oden over Kevin Durant (and wouldn’t he look good in a Blazers uniform?). Given where the Blazers were then, drafting Oden seemed to make sense. Who among us didn’t wonder how many championship trophies Oden and Brandon Roy (remember him?) would parade through downtown Portland? Those were the days, no?
Some will look at the saga of Greg Oden’s sojourn in Portland and ponder why the Rose City is cursed. How else could one rationalize, much less explain, the medical nightmares that have marked Oden’s tenure as a Blazer? The guy’s played 82 games in four-plus seasons, and his knees have garnered more airtime and column inches than his game.
I’d like to give Oden the benefit of the doubt. Injuries are what they are. Every day when I get out of bed I’m reminded of my years of contact sports. I get it. Maybe the basketball gods were toying with us. It seems Oden was gifted by those gods with height, talent, game…and balanced that by cursing him with two bad knees. Hey, I’ve got two knees I can’t run on, so I’m not going to hammer Oden on that count.
What I do find myself wondering about is just how much rope we have left. How much longer are Blazers fans willing to wait for potential to (finally) become reality? How much longer do we live off the anticipation and excitement left over from the day when Portland joyously introduced itself to Oden in Pioneer Courthouse Square?
When do we get to say finis? When do we decide that it’s time to let go and allow Greg Oden to become someone else’s problem? From where I sit, it’s difficult not to believe that time is now. We’ve waited. We’ve been patient. We thought we were getting Michael Jordan. It looks as if we may well have this generation’s Sam Bowie.
I’m not going to rip Oden for his PR missteps, though spreading one’s dong around the Internet is rarely to be considered a wise move. He’s all of 24, still a young kid finding his way. He’s had a lot of time on his hands, so I’ll chalk the low points up to immaturity and inexperience. And boredom.
Oden’s medical history is what it is- sad, unfortunate, and frustrating. That said, how much more patience should Blazers fans have to squander on Oden? At some point in a bad relationship, one needs to look forward at what will be instead of pondering what could have been if only…. One needs to be honest and self-aware enough to recognize when things are as good as they’re going to get. It’s not easy, and it’s not pleasant, but the beautiful thing about disappointment is that time can, and probably will, heal that wound.
Don’t get me wrong; I feel sorry for Oden. He came to Portland bearing the burden of high expectations and seemingly infinite potential. Fans could look into the future and see a franchise built around a young, gifted center that had GAME. The kid could play…and we’ve seen a good bit of that over the 82 games he appeared in. That taste of honey has been what’s sustained Blazers fans for these many years now. We KNEW, we BELIEVED, that once Oden healed, the team’s inexorable upward trajectory would begin. We could smell the championships on the horizon. We were thinking multiple championships...not one, not two, not three, not…wait, that’s been done already, hasn’t it?
Now, as with the prolonged demise of any doomed relationship, Blazers fans must face the reality that the future they imagined with their beloved is a chimera. Perhaps the time has come to break up and begin dating again. It might hurt a bit at first, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that this relationship’s been dying for some time. We’ve seen it coming, but we were wrapped up in denial and the hope that things would change. All we need to do now is recognize the truth that our future lies elsewhere, have the “It’s not you, it’s me” conversation, and let the healing process begin.
I wouldn’t worry too much about Greg Oden. He’s a 24-year-old kid who’s made more money for sitting at the end of a bench than you or I will make in our lifetimes. It’s not fair, and it may not be right, but it’s the way of the world. Even if he never laces up another pair of Nikes in anger, he’s been blessed financially. If he’s been smart with his money he’ll be set for life. If the worst thing that happens to Oden is that he never grabs another NBA rebound…well, I’d submit that he’s led a charmed life.
It’s possible, I suppose, that Oden’s NBA career may not be over. He may yet blossom into the dominant monster center that Blazers management saw when they made him the #1 draft pick. Oden could heal completely, come back stronger, and go on to a long, productive, perhaps even Hall of Fame career with several NBA titles.
It just won’t happen in a Blazers uniform.
A very wise man once said that sometimes you’re the dog, but more often you’re the hydrant. Blazer Nation fears that there’s a dog cozying up to us with his leg raised. We’ve been down this road before, so it’s understandable that we’d feel cursed. I doubt that’s true, but such is the nature of drafting talented young men to play a game that punishes even the strongest and most durable bodies. Sometimes talent and skill can’t compensate for a body not built to withstand the rigors of the NBA.
Greg Oden is not Sam Bowie. Blazers fans aren’t cursed, just the victims of unfortunate circumstance. Potential doesn’t always develop and bloom into the reality we hope for. The toughest part is admitting that potential will never become reality. We can spend our days wondering what Kevin Durant might have accomplished as a Blazer, but that won’t change anything. We are where we are.
Once we can find it within ourselves to make peace with the death of the dream, we can look to the future and be thankful. Things could be worse; we could be saddled with the Washington Wizards’ roster.