Feb 18, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Miami Heat center Greg Oden (20) warms up before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Prodigal Son Returns

Feb 23, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat center Greg Oden (20) is guarded by Chicago Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer (5) and shooting guard Tony Snell (20) in the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazer fans have an affinity with Greg Oden the likes of which no outsider could ever truly understand. My best friend lives in Gladstone, Ore., (right outside of Portland), is a lifelong Blazer fan, and swears to me up and down every time we discuss it that Portland made the right choice in Oden over Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft.

Greg Oden was supposed to be the savior of this franchise along with their superstar shooting guard Brandon Roy. Well, Roy is now out of the league and Oden is on the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat roster.

Oden played on the Blazers from 2008-10 although during that span he played the equivalent to one NBA season — 82 games total, due to injuries. He averaged a whopping 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per night over this span while shooting 57.7 percent from the floor. His career PER in Portland is 19.5 (the NBA average is 15.0) and he quickly became a fan favorite as a very likable 7-footer who would one day lead Portland to the land of elite teams like his predecessor Bill Walton once did (before having his own injury-plagued career).

That narrative, unfortunately, never came to fruition. Instead Oden found himself dilapidated and out of the NBA from 2011-13, when as fate would have it, the Miami Heat came knockin’ at the big man’s door. Oden thankfully accepted the offer to play his part and do what he could to help the Heat three-peat.

All of this brings us to Monday night when the Portland Trail Blazers traveled to South Beach to face the Heat…and their starting center for the night, Greg Oden. The game was a thriller with Chris Bosh blocking a late lay-up attempt by Damian Lillard to seal the Heat win 93-91, but this was about more than just this one game for Oden. This was about the will to come back after such tough times his first couple seasons in the NBA and Oden has shown that willingness to work hard and get back to the league.

The NBA is a business, but the players still think about each other in a different light. Wesley Matthews captured this thought process perfectly when speaking with Casey Holdahl of forwardcenter.net about Oden.

“This whole NBA thing is a family, it’s a brotherhood, it’s a fraternity. To see Greg be able to overcome the obstacles that he had and to play, from his health and all of that stuff, it’s cool.”

Wes was a rookie on the Jazz the last time Greg Oden played a game for the Blazers, but another one of Oden’s former teammates Nicolas Batum had much more to say when asked about Oden. When Holdahl asked about seeing Oden on the court now …

“I’m very happy for him. He’s been through a lot. I know people get mad about him, but he had no luck. If it was up to him he would be on the court for the last four or five years. He worked hard to be back, to get back and he’s done it. I don’t think many people could go through that and be back and keep playing. I don’t think a lot of guys could do it.”

Subsequently Oden played only 15 minutes and finished the game with four points, three rebounds and four fouls. Don’t feel sorry for Greg; he has worked hard to get where he is now and he’s not looking back…he’s only looking forward. This is not a “what if” sob story, this is a success story about heart and perseverance and overcoming what life throws at you.

Keep it up Greg, we’re all rooting for you.

Tags: Greg Oden Nicolas Batum Portland Trail Blazers Wes Matthews

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