Greg Oden's sad stories

May, 9, 2012
5/09/12
5:57
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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On Grantland, Greg Oden's former teammate Mark Titus spends plenty of time with the unemployed former first overall pick, and it's a wonderful must-read and the saddest thing ever, all at the same time.

Doubtless the biggest eye-opener is talk of Oden drinking more alcohol than he thinks he should have (and whatever "doing things I shouldn't have been doing" means), particularly when a hard-drinking cousin from the Air Force moved into his Portland house to "mentor" him.

Oden has discussed his relationship with alcohol before -- but it's news how it all shook out, and how Titus reports Oden's friends reacted in real time, with profound concern, talk of interventions and the like.

Read the whole story, though, and this alcohol aspect is just one of a half-dozen Oden tales of things gone wrong:
  • You know that wrist injury that dogged him in college? He got it, we learn, scrapping with his brother -- something that he long kept a secret.
  • His close friend died, tragically, on a day he might have been safely watching Oden play, but for a ticket mix-up.
  • Being in the same draft with the supernova Kevin Durant has created all kinds of pressures and scrutiny.
  • Portland was an unlucky place to land -- it's described both as not a good place for a young black man with a lot of money looking for a mentor, and as the team with perhaps the worst medical staff in the league.
  • There is talk of the etiquette of sexting, and how basic decency demanded he snap a photo of his privates and send them along.
  • There is the psychologist who helped him, until Oden pushed him away out of suspicion he was sharing Oden's personal information with the team.

And on and on.

By the time we get to the nitty gritty of his health -- really with Oden, the only thing that matters -- there is this insight about Oden's locked out summer of 2011 which really underlines a theme of victimhood:
Somewhat thankfully, the NBA lockout forced him away from the Blazers' facilities last summer, and he moved to Los Angeles to continue rehabilitating at a private clinic. Even if the change of scenery served him well, that clinic was juggling too many athletes to give him the personal attention Greg thought he needed, so he found a different clinic that was more hands-on. Greg's new physical therapist informed him that, while his left knee was healing well, it wasn't nearly as strong as it should've been. He referred Greg to a New York colleague who specialized in things like "making someone's knee better after it endures two devastating injuries in less than a year." Before Greg shifted operations to New York, however, the lockout ended and forced him back to Portland. Again, he felt rushed to return to the court before he was ready. And wouldn't you know it — he ended up needing another microfracture surgery in the same knee he was already rehabbing.

You feel that idea? That if somehow the lockout had been longer everything would be better?

Somewhere around there I reached the point of enough already with the excuses.

NBA players have the right to get their own medical advice, apart from the team, whenever they want it. Players do that all the time. But Oden never really pursued that too aggressively, which blows my mind.

Are there doctors who could have Oden healthy and on the court right now? Maybe. Nobody knows.

By the time he was enthusiastic about the solution in New York, Oden was four years and $20 million in salary into knowing that his career hinged on getting the best medical care money could find. By last summer Oden knew that he was particularly injury prone (wrist, tonsillectomy, microfracture 1, ankle injury, foot issue, fractured kneecap, microfracture 2). He had wondered aloud in May 2010 if maybe he had systemic health issues underlying all that. The lockout didn't end until past Thanksgiving, four years after when Oden should have been on that jet to New York or Switzerland or wherever it is they have answers.

And now that he has had microfracture 3, still no real answer. If New York was the promised land, why isn't he there right now?

Greg has, by his own admission, watched a hell of a lot of "Two and a Half Men" and "Gossip Girl." He has not, despite all the time and money you could ever ask for, gone to the trouble of finding the best medical care in the world -- at least not that he has discussed.

Maybe it's too tall an order to expect an injured young athlete to take charge of complex affairs in that way. It's normal and right to make mistakes when you're young. That's cool. But it's getting past time when we can blame anybody but Greg, for instance, for things Greg did or didn't do.

The truth is he has had a ton of bad luck and a ton of good luck. Put it all together, and he can create all kinds of success and happiness, and we won't have to keep hearing such sad stories.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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