After dealing with ‘bust’ label in NBA, Greg Oden has finally found happiness again in basketball

greg oden

On the same day that NFL star Calvin Ridley offered a lengthy apology and explanation regarding his one-year suspension for gambling, there was another moving behind-the-curtain profile on former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Greg Oden.

To say that Oden, the former stand-out center at Ohio State, has had a bumpy ride ever since leaving college early to famously become the prized gem for the Portland Trailblazers over Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft would be a colossal understatement.

Barely three months after that special moment in late June, Oden had to undergo microfracture surgery, causing him to miss his entire rookie season. After finally making his official debut in 2008, Oden left the game with a foot injury after playing 13 scoreless minutes. Just like that, with those two notes, you can more or less summarize Greg Oden’s deflating, injury-riddled NBA career.

He was slapped with the label of “bust,” despite an abundance of injuries that mounted so quickly. A quick peek at his journey reveals that Oden made attempts to try and turn the corner. That’s especially apparent when you consider his final season of professional basketball came in 2015 when he decided to give it one last go with the Jiangsu Dragons in China.

Most players probably may have been far away from the game of basketball by that point. But Oden couldn’t let go of the game and, because of that, he experienced a nice stretch of basketball success in that final season overseas.

In 25 games, Oden averaged 13.6 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks before being cut with just two games left in the season.

Greg Oden, ‘bust’ label and mental health

Still, that label — “bust” — had a massive effect on Oden’s mental health.

“I just secluded myself from everybody. I felt like a loser. I just felt like a failure. I felt like I let a lot of people down. Letting Portland down, letting the whole entire staff and organization down. I felt like I let my family down and everybody who coached me and believed in me.”

Greg Oden on being released by Portland (The Ringer)

It’s important to remember that Oden was just 19 years old when he arrived in Portland as the presumed savior after his All-American freshman season with the Buckeyes. Due to the season-ending injury before his NBA career could even start, he didn’t spend a lot of time with his Blazers teammates, let alone get a chance to know them.

According to The Ringer’s Mirin Fader, being forced to sit out the season while Durant thrived in Seattle and listening to all talking heads shout incessantly about his injury led to Oden becoming depressed, and he began drinking more frequently.

“It got pretty bad when I got to Portland. I was always injured, and I was always at home, and it was just an everyday thing.”

Greg Oden on sitting out his rookie season (The Ringer)

Oden was also suffering from loss. His best friend died in a car accident five months before he was drafted.

After a prolonged battle of using alcohol and painkillers to cope, this story miraculously does have plenty of positive light.

Last April, Oden — who had been back living in his home state of Indiana — was hired as Butler’s new director of basketball operations where it just so happens that his former Ohio State coach, Thad Matta, is the head coach of the Bulldogs.

Reuniting with Matta — who had previously brought on Oden as a student manager for the 2016-17 season at Ohio State — has felt pretty storybook. Oden is finally happy again and reportedly hopes to eventually become a head coach.

“I can look in the mirror and just realize that in this moment, I’m happy. It’s accepting what you’ve been through. Being able to keep your head high.”

Greg Oden, present day (The Ringer)

What’s ironic is Oden said in the profile done by Fader that there are times that he still watches his old highlights on YouTube and that the term “bust” still bothers him.

That could have been something that unknowingly fueled Oden in order to get to this very point. Oden still currently stands incredibly close to the game of basketball, with the stark difference of being happy.

When you throw in the fact that The New York Times referred to Oden in 2007 as a “once-in-a-basketball-generation center” — with his name alongside the late Bill Russell’s — it seems astounding he’s managed to stay the course and remain in the world of basketball despite the endless setbacks.

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