MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Heat lost to the Washington Wizards Wednesday night, but the loss was not the big story coming out of the game. Instead, it was center Greg Oden, who returned to the court for the first time in four years and made an immediate impact.
Oden was the number one overall pick several years ago. But his body, specifically his knees, kept the seven-foot star from staying on the court throughout his first few seasons. Eventually, Oden went through three microfracture procedures and dealt with a broken bone and was out of basketball.
More than a year ago, Oden declared that he wanted to play again and that he was working on rehabbing his knees, body, and game. Make no mistake, Oden could have taken the money from his rookie deal, approximately $23 million, and never played again.
But the seven-footer still has the drive and desire to be on the court. Last summer, the Miami Heat decided to take a shot with Oden. It was considered a low-risk, high-reward move by Heat president Pat Riley.
If Oden could play, even for 10-15 minutes a night, he could finally give the Heat the big body down on the block that could keep teams like Indiana from pounding Miami inside. It would also give more freedom to move Chris Bosh back to the four and have essentially two seven-footers on the court. (Bosh is 6’11”).
Oden had not talked to the media since before the season and was inactive on a regular basis throughout the current season. But that all changed on Wednesday night, shortly after the Heat completed a trade involving Joel Anthony.
A few hours before the game, Heat president Pat Riley let the cat out of the bag and said Oden was active and would be in uniform and available to play for the Heat. The only question was would Oden get into the game against the Washington Wizards.
The Heat team struggled mightily from the opening tip against Washington and eventually found itself down by upwards of 20-30 points in the first half. It was in the second quarter Wednesday night when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra sent Oden to check into the game.
Oden was taking the floor alongside LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Norris Cole. That’s two number one overall picks in Oden and LeBron plus two top 10 picks in Bosh and Wade, plus another first round pick in Cole.
It didn’t take long for Oden to make an impact on the game. Wade drove to the basket and Oden was trailing him. When Wade’s shot didn’t go in, Oden jumped and took the rebound away from a Wizards player.
Oden then jumped right back up again and threw down a big dunk to get his first points in roughly four years. Oden would finish with six points in a little over eight minutes of game action.
It was a brief appearance, but it was something fans and even opponents of the Heat should celebrate. Oden has been through more pain and rehab than most people could even tolerate. Even if he never scores another point, the fact he made it back this far is inspiring.
But the Heat hopes this is only another step in the rehabilitation process. What will be interesting to see is when Oden’s next appearance on the court will be. The Heat has Thursday off before playing back-to-back games against the 76ers and Bobcats.
If Oden’s knees can hold up to the rigors of playing in the NBA again, and he can get back into solid playing shape, he could be the Heat’s elusive missing piece to completely dominate the game.
For Oden, and the Heat’s fans, it would be a dream come true. A talented, seven-foot star that likes to rebound and defends the basket well would help open up the Heat’s offense even more.
It would allow Bosh to move to the four and float outside to draw defenses further away from the basket. It would help the Heat’s rebounding which in turn would help the transition game which is lethal when the Heat can execute it.
It’s only step one in the process of getting Oden back into the game. He may never be considered a success by some because of his lofty draft status. But if he can contribute anything again to the Heat and the game of basketball, he’s achieved success by his standards.
It’s an inspirational story about not backing down no matter how tough the road in front of you may look. Oden took a big step down that road Wednesday night against the Wizards, where it goes from here, no one knows.