Greg Oden, Sam Bowie, and the Portland Trailblazers

In Portland they haven’t had the best luck when it has come to gaining franchise cornerstones. Bill Walton is debatably the greatest Trail Blazer ever, but since Walton was allowed to walk to the San Diego Clippers back in 1979 there has been no luck when hitting on draft picks. The next best thing would definitely be Clyde Drexler. The only problem there was that he came up in the wrong era. When you have to go against Michael Jordan, you’ll lose every time. You’ll learn that by the end of this article if you didn’t already know.

Clyde would eventually move on from the Portland franchise when he would be traded for Otis Thorpe in 1995. Clyde went on to win his first NBA title in ’95 along with his Hall of Fame teammate, who was also a Houston Cougar alumnus, Hakeem Olajuwon.

Clyde was, and still is to this day arguably, the best thing they’d had since Bill Walton. They’ve gone through picks who have just not produced like Sebastian Telfair and Jermaine O’Neal, or guys who’ve had attitude issues like Zach Randolph. Not to mention guys who couldn’t stay on the floor because of lingering health issues. You’ve got names like Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, and Sam Bowie in that category.

I’d like to key in on Greg Oden and Sam Bowie with you all today. It’s truly a sad, and eerie, story when you compare the two big men. It’s the same music that the Blazers were dancing to back in 1984.

Greg Oden’s story has been a very compelling one. Considered a basketball prodigy hailing out of Terre Haute, Indiana, it was thought by many that he was going to be the next Shaquille O’Neal. From being named Mr. Basketball in Indiana in 2006 to being named a McDonalds All-American that same year. It seemed like Oden had all of the gifts that a center was supposed to be blessed with.

Even though he had wrist surgery on his right wrist on June 16th in 2006, Oden would announce that he would be attended Ohio State University 13 days later. He was still highly recruited and the wrist, nor the fact that Oden’s legs are two different sizes, raised enough red flags to prevent him from being highly recruited. He and teammate Mike Conley had announced that they would attend OSU and after Oden sat out the beginning of the season he would make his first appearance in early December of that year.

The duo would lead Ohio State to a National Championship appearance after dominating the College Hoops scene for a year. They would eventually lose to the Florida Gators but Oden would still put up 25 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocked shots. It was clear that Oden was a dominant force on that level of basketball. He was named an All American that season and was also the first freshman, along with Kevin Durant, to be named an All American since 1990.

After a successful season at Ohio State Oden decided it was time to leave. It just so happened that the Portland Trailblazers would be faced with another immense decision that could change their franchise forever. With the number one pick, Portland had to choose between the smooth, soft spoken scorer Kevin Durant, or the gentle yet intimidating enforcer Greg Oden. It was thought that they couldn’t go wrong either way they swayed. Neither pick was considered perfect, but both were considered excellent.

The knock on Durant was that he wasn’t strong enough. He didn’t bench press a lot, so that was a big turn off to a lot of teams. As a scorer, you can’t get muscled out of the paint. We see how that has turned out now. Durant is on the way to greatness, now a two time scoring champ and a legitimate MVP candidate.

Oden? The knock on him was his health of course. People were more worried about his wrist injury than his legs. Little did we all know that the legs should’ve been the main concern in this case. Oden has had three microfracture surgeries since coming into the league in the 2007 draft. He’s only played 82 games throughout the span of five seasons. Durant has made more field goals this season than Oden has made in his entire NBA career.

Dane Carbaugh of says that it is physically impossible for a seven- footer with one leg shorter than the other to play basketball at a high level and sustain that level over multiple seasons. That has to play a factor into this.

Maybe I’m reasoning as a jaded Portland fan but I cannot be convinced that a seven-footer with one leg that is an inch shorter than the other will ever be able to stay healthy. Physics don’t allow it, and that’s certainly something to chew on.

I don’t want to give the wrong idea here, Portland did not make a bad decision. You can’t teach height in the NBA and a basketball player as talented as Oden is hard to pass up. Especially when you already have a scorer like Brandon Roy in your lap. It wasn’t really a hard decision to make for them at the time. A healthy Greg Oden was just the piece that they needed.

Much like the situation with Sam Bowie, Oden seemed to be the final piece to the puzzle. Just replace Roy with Drexler and you have a combination that could be lethal for years to come.

As for Sam Bowie? He feels Oden’s pain.. Being picked two spots ahead of Michael Jordan didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time because no one knew that he would be Michael Jordan. In hindsight, we know what the best pick would have been for Portland. It wasn’t a bad pick because of Clyde, but it wasn’t the right one either.

Bowie had gone through five leg surgeries throughout his years in Portland after having a healthy rookie campaign. He was limited to the Blazers for the next five seasons until he was finally traded to the New Jersey Nets. With the Nets he worked hard to stay on the floor and had a healthy run there for four more years before retiring in 1994.

Bowie is now back in Kentucky where he races horses. He says that he has no regrets about his career.

I personally feel elated that my game was to the point where someone thought of me worthy of the second pick, and I don’t feel I need to apologize by any means.

I think Oden could take a page out of this book. After three microfracture surgeries it may be time to call it quits and two other reconstructive surgeries on his legs. His legs are brittle and you have to consider your future when thinking about things like this. Would it be worth it to come back to the NBA after going through so much and not even being able to stay on the floor for one full season? Possibly. But I don’t know if it’s a risk that I would be willing to take.

Oden will feel pressure to live up to his achieved status in the NBA. He was supposed to be a star and he had worked his whole life to get to that point. If I were in his place I would be devastated if all of that was stripped from me because of circumstances that I had no control over. His social world could possibly come crashing down on him; role frustration is something that can change people’s lives.

Though, for him, there are going to be other outlets. He has other hobbies that could easily replace basketball in his life, including singing. Anything to take his mind of off basketball for a while could be of benefit to him.

Whatever Oden’s decision, I support him. I will never in my life call Oden a bust if he chooses to call it quits. He never got the chance to showcase what he could do in the NBA and it was out of his hands. A bust, to me, is someone who has the full ability to make an impact in their sport but just chooses not to. There are plenty of guys who would take an opportunity like that for granted. Oden? He just keeps trying and trying because basketball is what he loves. How can you not feel for a guy like that under these circumstances?

I hope that he eventually makes it through a full season. I’m sure it would make for a great moment in sports, but most importantly, his life.


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