Greg Oden Says He Became an Alcoholic in His Second NBA Season

by May 09, 2012

Former top Draft pick Greg Oden is currently without an NBA job, and there have been whispers of him possibly having to retire. In a revealing interview with Grantland, Oden opens up the multitude of challenges he’s faced since he entered the League (and even well before that.) Here’s an excerpt, but be sure to read the whole thing: “Greg’s emphasis on privacy also explains why you probably didn’t know that, during his lone season at Ohio State, his best friend since childhood, Travis Smith, died in a car accident the same night that Greg scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds in a two-point home win over Michigan State. Travis had planned on coming to that game until Greg’s mother and grandmother stepped in and claimed Greg’s remaining tickets. But a few hours before the game, Greg was informed they weren’t coming because his grandma didn’t feel well, which meant Travis could have attended the game after all. Greg found out about Travis’s passing shortly after the game. When he heard the news, he promptly left the gym and drove around the outer belt of Columbus while sobbing. He wasn’t seen or heard from until practice the next afternoon. A few days later, he served as a pallbearer in Travis’s funeral just hours before 14,000 Purdue fans rained boos on him at Mackey Arena during pregame introductions. […] It’s almost like a cloud has been following Greg since high school. He even had bad luck with the 2007 draft, landing in the same class as Kevin Durant. Experts spent two months comparing them and picking apart Greg’s résumé, which didn’t stop Portland from selecting him with the first overall pick. That summer, his right knee started bothering him and doctors determined that he needed microfracture surgery. Greg’s rookie season was over before it even began. Portland fans, who endured the injury-ravaged careers of Bill Walton and Sam Bowie, freaked out. What those fans didn’t know was that Greg’s heart was still aching because of Travis’s death; he was already headed down a destructive path of drinking and ‘doing things I shouldn’t have been doing’ (his words at dinner). The knee surgery only made things worse. ‘For starters, Portland isn’t a great city to live in if you’re a young, African American male with a lot of money,’ Greg explained with an embarrassed grin. ‘But that’s especially true if you don’t have anybody to guide you. Since I was hurt the entire season, I was on my own a bunch and didn’t have veteran teammates around to help me adapt to the NBA lifestyle.’ Even while adjusting to the change in culture, Greg successfully rehabbed his knee and played in 61 games the following season, averaging nine points and seven rebounds in 21.5 minutes. He wasn’t dominating like he had in high school and college, but he provided enough highlights to make Blazers fans feel optimistic about the team’s future. It seemed to me while watching Greg on TV that he would be able to recover from his surgery and in a few years’ time could be one of the premier big men in the NBA. But after longing for a veteran role model the previous season, Greg got exactly what he wanted in his second year, only the results were disastrous. That’s because it wasn’t an NBA veteran who took Greg under his wing in his second season — it was his veteran cousin from the Air Force who moved into Greg’s house in Portland. ‘If you know anything about guys in the Air Force,’ Greg explained, ‘it’s that they drink a ton. My cousin got wrapped up in the NBA lifestyle and threw parties at my house all the time. So I got wrapped up in it too. When I played well, I’d drink to celebrate. And when I played poorly, I’d drink to forget. That second year in Portland I pretty much became an alcoholic.’”