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Greg Oden opens up about injuries, alcoholism, unfulfilled promise

May 9, 2012, 3:37 PM EDT

greg_oden Getty Images

If you read one thing today, it should be the story about Greg Oden by Mark Titus at Grantland. It is fantastic. Click the link. Go read it, I’ll wait.

Oden is an enigma, the poster child for the Blazers history of flamed out draft choices, the guy drafted before Kevin Durant, the guy with three micorofracture surgeries, the guy whose naked cell phone picture of himself ended up all over the Web.

It’s easy today for us to take guys like Oden and paint them as two-dimensional characters. Oden as guy to mock. Oden as cautionary tale. People point to Durant as the obvious choice now, but at the time know that 29 other GMs would have made the same pick because the promise of Oden was that great (and when he played healthy, he looked good). Any GM saying otherwise is lying.

But as always, the real story is more complex. Oden made mistakes, but lacked a mentor to help steer him away from others. There was no NBA veteran guiding him, which is why while he was out in his second season someone filled the void.

That’s because it wasn’t an NBA veteran who took Greg under his wing in his second season — it was his veteran cousin from the Air Force who moved into Greg’s house in Portland.

“If you know anything about guys in the Air Force,” Greg explained, “it’s that they drink a ton. 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.”1

The story goes on to explain that Oden’s wrist injury in college that kept him out came when his brother Anthony attacked him and Oden defended himself.

It also talks about how while at Ohio State Oden’s best friend died and how that impacted him into his rookie year in Portland.

Greg’s rookie season was over before it even began (due to a knee injury). Portland fans, who endured the injury-ravaged careers of Bill Walton and Sam Bowie, freaked out. What those fans didn’t know was that Greg’s heart was still aching because of Travis’s death; he was already headed down a destructive path of drinking and “doing things I shouldn’t have been doing” (his words at dinner). The knee surgery only made things worse.

“For starters, Portland isn’t a great city to live in if you’re a young, African American male with a lot of money,” Greg explained with an embarrassed grin. “But that’s especially true if you don’t have anybody to guide you. Since I was hurt the entire season, I was on my own a bunch and didn’t have veteran teammates around to help me adapt to the NBA lifestyle.”

Then there are those pictures of him and his… um, well he sent a girl a naked picture of himself.

“I wish it wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “But I’m not going to apologize for it. After all, I’m human and there are worse things that 21-year-olds could do. I just got caught up with women throwing themselves at me. When a girl sends me 100 pictures, I have to send something back every now and then. I’m not an a********.”

This is just a fraction of what’s in the story, you should read it.

It does not excuse Oden for his mistakes, but it gives you a picture of the real Oden, the shy guy who had to grow up in a spotlight he loathed. Still loathes. A guy who does not fit neatly into the two-dimensional boxes we try to squeeze him into. A guy who has made mistakes but has paid for them many times over.

And a guy who has not given up on an NBA comeback someday.

  1. veerapan88 - May 9, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    I like his ratio of pictures received to pictures sent.

  2. bozosforall - May 9, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    So who is your mentor now, Greg Oden? Put your money where your mouth is and I will wish you the best going forward. Make the same stupid mistakes and you will get the scorn that you earn. It’s all in your hands. Best of luck.

  3. sfm073 - May 9, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    This is all pretty much irrelevant considering he’s played in exactly 82 games in 4 seasons. I get it he got caught up in some bad stuff, but that’s not what has kept him from playing.

  4. coldplay519 - May 9, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    I like how much money he made for doing absolutely NOTHING other than “having potential.” Great work if you can get it.

  5. isujames - May 9, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    Thats all a part of life son,suck it up and come back stronger and wiser.I have been through xxxx more than that,and im not rich and I’ve had a lot of my God given abilities/talents taken away but I keep going on.

    • stoptrippn - May 14, 2012 at 5:41 PM

      I agree

  6. metalhead65 - May 9, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    I read the article and it was great. why do people enjoy ragging on the guy because his body gave out on him? as for his “problems” relax people it is not as though he did a bunch of drugs or beat his woman or got busted for a dui. he was young and did stupid stuff people do when your young. he was 20 years old and rich with nobody there to help him adjust to life in the nba so he partied,figured out on his own he did not like where it was ging and stopped as for the picture I am sure he did not do it with the intent of putting it out there for everyone to see, he just sent it to the wrong person. personaly I hope he is able to heal and come back and enjoy a nice career he is only 24.

  7. crillbill - May 9, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    I look forward to Oden getting a max deal the day he passes his physical. He is still extremely young and very little miles on his body. So Portland will be gunshy and he will go off to Phoenix and dominate and Blazers fans everywhere will continue their crying for years to come..

    Never forget Darko Millicic, still getting huge amounts for being a stiff.. As does Kwame Brown

  8. xmatt0926x - May 9, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    Hahaha. That’s a great line. ” When a girl sends me 100 pictures, I have to send something back every now and then. I’m not an a********.” Hillarious.

  9. lmoneyfresh - May 9, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    What’s with all the animosity towards the guy? Jesus, first 4 comments are all trashing the guy. People hold his injuries against him for some reason, when guess what? Shit happens, and it seems to happen a lot to this guy. People need to learn how to separate sports from real life. Just because he’s a famous athlete doesn’t mean he isn’t human.

  10. pellypell - May 9, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    “When I played well, I’d drink to celebrate.”

    Don’t be so hard on yourself big guy, it was only one night.

  11. karlton2 - May 9, 2012 at 6:19 PM

    To me, the best part of the article was the link to the medical review of the staff where the guy effectively predicted the injuries that happened to Oden, Gay and Pryzbilla and how the training staff ignored his recommendations.

  12. granadafan - May 9, 2012 at 6:39 PM

    Pics of girl or it didn’t happen!

  13. surly1n1nd1anapol1s - May 9, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    Why do I keep reading athlete-granted interviews, often mea culpa, of shy guys?

  14. vikingsinla - May 9, 2012 at 9:41 PM

    “Portland isn’t a great city to live in if you’re a young, African American male with a lot of money,”

    What did he mean by this? I’ve lived in Portland, and never noticed wealthy black people being treated differently. Now, North Carolina….

    • 24thesho - May 10, 2012 at 2:40 AM

      To me, I believe that he meant the lures; such as the bars, the women (and other things), the constant gloomy, inclement weather and the fact that he was 21 years, alone, with a ton of money from signing with the Portland Trail Blazers. If there are two rich (or wealthy) black guys hanging in the pop-club and young scene and one of them was a first round hyped up NBA pick, who do you think would get treated differently? I believe this is what he meant.

    • ptho16 - May 10, 2012 at 9:00 AM

      I think he’s referring to the fact that no matter how much you think race relations have improved in this country, it’s very difficult to be in a place where there are very few people that look like you.

  15. 24thesho - May 10, 2012 at 2:41 AM

    I have been to Portland many times……, it’s a heavy city.

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