Greg Oden: ‘I Know I’m One of the Biggest Busts in NBA History’

Miami Heat backup center Greg Oden has always been candid about the struggles he’s faced since he was infamously picked first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2007 NBA Draft. Oden says he has come to grips with his fate, and is now focused on making the best of his opportunity in the L. Per Grantland:

Given what Greg has been through physically, mentally, and emotionally since he entered the league, and because his default facial expression for as long as I’ve known him has been somewhere between “annoyed” and “depressed,” I’ve conditioned myself to expect him to look miserable every time I see him. Last week in Charlotte, the opposite was true. Having a positive attitude about your situation is vital to being a great benchwarmer, and Greg surprisingly had that covered. When I asked him if he was bummed that he wasn’t playing more, this was his response:

“Are you kidding? I was a professional rehab/workout guy for four years. I wasn’t even a basketball player — just a guy who got paid to exercise. I spent four years trying to get back on an NBA court. Now that I’ve done that, it’s not fair to myself to complain about minutes. I knew coming into this that I wasn’t going to be the player I once was. I just wanted to get healthy and then help out any way I could.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to play or even that I get nervous,” Greg told me after the game. “I’d love to play meaningful minutes. It’s just that my body is at a point where it takes a process for me to get physically ready to play and a process for me to recover. It’s just not worth going through all of that to play a minute or two in a blowout.”

As he has gradually worked his way back into game shape (a process he admits is more frustrating and difficult than he thought it would be), Miami has proven it doesn’t really need him to win. Throw in the way (Roy) Hibbert dominated Greg in the beginning of that late-March game and it’s easy to see Erik Spoelstra’s thought process: We don’t need Greg to win, he wasn’t very effective in the exact situation where we thought we’d need him, and he has chronic pain from his history of knee injuries (not to mention his recent back spasms). With that, is there any reason why I SHOULD play him?

I asked him straight-up: “If this is the final chapter of the Greg Oden story — if you’re destined to be a benchwarmer for the rest of your career — are you OK with that? Will you be satisfied with your legacy?”

“I’m over all of that,” Greg told me. “I know I’m one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it’ll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things … It’s frustrating that my body can’t do what my mind wants it to do sometimes. But worrying or complaining about it isn’t going to fix anything … I wish the circumstances would let me play more, but I certainly don’t regret coming back, and I don’t regret signing with the Heat.”

But, as Greg mentioned when we met, despite all the differences between NBA reserves like Greg and D.J. White and the walk-ons at UConn and Grambling State, and even Division III guys who ride the bench and the high school JV players who dress for varsity games, the Benchwarmer Mantra unites us all:

“It doesn’t say how much you played on your championship ring.”