Many people have filled in this sentence with the name Bill Russell over the past few years. Tenacious defender, great rebounder, solid offensive game, etc. But maybe it’s time we start filling in that blank with Sam Bowie or Bill Walton.
Each of those two men were top draft picks after stellar (and in Walton’s case, possibly the greatest ever) college careers. The Trail Blazers took them both and pinned their franchise’s hopes to them. In Walton’s case, Portland was almost immediately rewarded as the goofy hippie from UCLA led the Blazers to the 1977 NBA title. But as had been the case with his first two seasons, the rest of Walton’s career was filled with disappointment, injury and ultimately wasted talent.
Bowie was the second pick in the 1984 NBA draft out of Kentucky, famously ahead of Michael Jordan (though Portland did already have Clyde Drexler). He had been a member of the 1980 Olympic basketball team that never made it to Moscow, despite the fact that he was a senior in high school! But he too was beset with injury in college and left after three years despite missing significant time. Bowie never averaged much more than ten points per game and was injured for the majority of his first five years in the league.
So is Greg Oden one of those players? He doesn’t really measure up in one sense, at least with Walton, because Walton is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players to ever live if only his injuries hadn’t gotten in the way. But Oden has had this mystical quality about him that makes people love him. He’s a good guy (it seems) he’s gregarious and well spoken. But he has not played a full season since high school. At Ohio State he had an injured wrist and missed about half of the season. Still, he helped lead Ohio State to the national finals before losing to Florida. Then he went pro, was drafted no. 1 overall by the Blazers and immediately injured his knee, requiring micro-fracture surgery. He missed all of last season. This year he had a sprained ankle in training camp so he was limited to only a handful of games and just three minutes into the first regular season game of 2008/2009, he sprained his foot requiring him to miss the next two to four weeks (at least).
Maybe he’s cursed or maybe he’s just having a weird string of bad luck. Either way, Greg Oden is starting to become a sad story without having even completed a single NBA game. I really hope he comes back and can stay injury-free but that scenario is becoming less and less likely with each injury he sustains. The man can play, but will he get a chance?