Considering the circumstances, it's not surprising Greg Oden's doctor told him last year that he might as well put his basketball dreams behind him. But for the No. 1 overall pick, giving up would've been harder than what he's gone through to get healthy.
"I just wanted to play basketball. That's my love. That's what I wanted to do," Oden said in an article by Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
After a devastating knee injury in 2009 seemingly put an end to his NBA career, Oden didn't exactly get encouragement from his surgeon after a third microfracture procedure in 2012.
"After that surgery in 2012, my last surgery, the doctor said, 'Just be a regular person, go live life. Be a regular person. You would be perfectly fine walking out of this place and not have to worry about any rehab or anything.'"
Instead, Oden worked his way back into the minds of NBA teams this summer and signed a deal with the Miami Heat. He still doesn't know how much he'll actually be able to contribute on the court, however.
"I know it's going to be a long process. Just getting back on the court, when I step on the court, if I play five minutes, and I step off the court and I'm healthy, and I'm able to play the next game, that's what I'm worried about. For me, that would be the biggest smile on my face, being able to play in games."
That attitude makes it easy to root for Oden, particularly when he talks about what lies ahead to simply play. The words also help to explain just how much he'll have to go through to play after a practically unprecedented absence from the game.
"I got an old body. I'm going to put it like that. I understand. My body is not going to be when I was 18, able to run all day and jump over people. I can't do that now. It's just not going to happen. My knees, the wear and tear of the surgeries, I understand that. But I'm going to play as hard as I can, and I'm going to try to jump over people, and I'm going to try to run all day. If my body lets me, I'll do it."
Oden is just 25 and, usually, guys aren't talking like this at his age. It reflects the adversity he's gone through simply to get to this point, however, and now we'll see if he can take that final step -- something he's clearly anxious to do:
I'm beyond excited. I'm a Miami Heat. I don't know how to say it right. My friends are like, 'Why do you stutter every time you say it.' To me, it's not real yet. I'm going to be there Monday and I'm excited. It's been such a long road.