3. Dark Days For Greg Oden; But Not That Dark

So, Greg Oden got hurt again. Because that’s what injury-prone players do. They get hurt. For more, let’s look at what NBA writers had to say around the league.

Holly Mackenzie wrote an open letter to Oden:

You will make it because you’ve made it through the dark days in a hospital bed, through rehab, limping, crutching, watching, praying, waiting, hoping, wishing and yearning to be back before. You have been through the dark and made it to the light. It isn’t fair that you have to do it again. None of us can even pretend that it is. But it’s here. Another challenge. You will conquer this because the people around you will not allow you to stay in the dark. Your smile deserves to shine in the light.

This isn’t even about basketball. It is, but it’s about so much more. It’s about a dream that happens to be rooted in the game. It’s about you mattering to us because the game matters so much to you. If ever you need to be reminded of that support, remember Carl Landry grabbing your hand because he didn’t know what else to do to tell you he was with you. Sometimes there are no words. There definitely isn’t an explanation for this.

I wish I didn’t have to be typing these words.

Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen wonders about Oden’s capacity for joy:

The shame of Greg Oden’s latest season-ending injury is based mainly in what it means for Oden. Does it mean a long-suffering career of promising starts and painful stops? How much will he be able to accomplish in the NBA? How much joy can he create in between the pain?

Sekou Smith writes for NBA.com:

This is a cosmic injustice of epic proportions. The sight of Oden writhing in pain on that floor ruined many weekends, in Portland and beyond.

We’re being robbed of a big man talent that who was supposed to challenge Dwight Howard and Yao Ming for best young big man on the planet status in a few years. Instead, when Howard reaches his prime Oden will still be trying to come back from his latest injury.

Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports argues that Greg Oden, who’s suffered significant injuries in high school, college, and the NBA, is NOT injury prone, after all:

I don’t see anything in Oden’s injuries that tell me he’s anything more than incredibly unlucky. There was nothing in what happened the other night that should tell us otherwise.

You think his microfracture or giant frame or broken wrist had ANYTHING to do with his foot rolling over as Andrew Bynum bear-hugged him? Come on. You think it has anything to do with his upper frame? There’s no way. Every player in the NBA, given the similar trajectory and similar circumstances, would have done the same thing.

He may be clumsy, but he’ll be fine. This isn’t wishful thinking. Promise.

And Sherman Alexie, literary luminary and rabid basketball fan, implores Blazers fan to cherish even the worst of luck:

In this poem, I also liken it to the every day death of the Sonics. I feel their loss constantly. And then, seeing that Oden is down for the season (and likely done as an everyday player for good), I first thought, “Well, I’m glad I don’t have to feel the kind of pain that Blazers fans are feeling today. I don’t have to feel the pain of every Sonics loss or injury anymore.”

But then, I thought, no, I miss the losses as much as the victories. I miss the pain as much as the joy. I miss the losing streaks as much as I miss the wins. Hell, I miss Luke Ridnour. And so, I think, my grief for my father — my ever-present grief — is so important because he never goes away. I don’t forget him. I keep him alive that way. And so, I think, my grief for my Sonics — my ever-present grief — is so important because they never go away. I keep the team alive that way. Ah, my father, the Sonics, basketball in general, all intertwined.

So, I guess, if I could console Blazers fans, I would tell them their Oden-grief is valuable, that it is about hope and love, that it is about keeping memory — their love for basketball — alive.

All of which begs the most basic of replies: Can we please just relax? That Oden suffered another serious setback is disheartening, sure, but there’s nothing tragic or even that remarkable about the injury. He’s a basketball player that, despite Dwyer’s claims, is injury prone. You can see it just by looking at his gait on the court. He looks different than the rest of them; brittle, even as he’s running up-and-down the court, independent of contact.

It’s not his fault, and it’s not an indictment against his character. There have been plenty of great players that have had otherwise promising careers derailed by injury. Bo Jackson comes to mind, for example. It’s sad and unfortunate, but not really tragic. And hearing the reactions reverberate all throughout the NBA, you keep hearing people talk about injustice and tragedy, as though Oden’s injury is somehow worse than others we’ve seen. And while many would say that “This is no laughing matter,” it's all sort of laughable.

By the time Greg Oden’s rookie contract expires, he’ll have made in excess of $20 million. That’s enough to live on for a lifetime. (And you wonder whether he’s injury prone? See if anyone gambles and gives him a big extension.) It’s not just that there are greater injustices and tragedies in the world—because that’s freaking obvious—but there are much greater tragedies in the basketball world.

What about Ronnie Fields, Kevin Garnett’s high school teammate in Chicago? He was tabbed for greatness, but tore his knees up in college, before he could turn pro and make a fortune like Greg Oden. Or what about another high school legend, Ben Wilson? He was Lebron before Lebron, except he got shot and killed before the world could learn his name. Are those examples too obscure? What about Kirk Snyder, Utah’s first round pick just a few years ago.

He’s currently incarcerated, and suffering from debilitating mental instability. This past year, he was deemed unfit for trial after he was put on suicide watch and refused to eat. After he was granted a release from prison to play basketball in China, he cut off the tracking device assigned to him by the parole board, never made it to China, and just this week, had his bond revoked by the state of Ohio. The story of Kirk Snyder—and hundreds of other basketball players who have failed and descended into chaos for one reason or another—THAT is a tragedy.

Greg Oden will play again. He may never fully recover psychologically or physically when it comes to becoming an NBA superstar, but he’ll still be collecting NBA paychecks for at least the next five years, and probably longer. That makes him wealthier than 99.9% of Americans. And that he’s got a particularly gregarious personality and refreshing outlook on life only makes that more rewarding. He’s a special person, with the resources and gifts to enjoy the hell out of life. When his playing days are overwith, articulate and funny, he’ll have his pick of any announcing job in the league. Believe me, life could be worse.

So to NBA folks, Blazers fans, and everyone else painting this as some sort of basketball miscarriage, let’s keep this in perspective. Think of Ben Wilson. Think of Kirk Snyder. Think of Len Bias. Tragedies happen all too often in the basketball world, but Greg Oden’s knee injury just isn’t one of ’em. Gregoden_medium

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