by Wade Evanson

He was the missing link.

Greg Oden came to Portland nearly 9 years ago; since then he’s gone from savior to bust, strong to broken, and “can’t miss” to can’t play. What started on a stage, as a celebration in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, has seemingly ended in a land far away and further from the minds of a city he should’ve owned.

Last week Greg was cut by the Jiangsu Dragons. Yep, the Jiangsu Dragons. No, that’s not one of the street gangs in Kurt Russell’s Big Trouble In Little China, nor is it an enemy combatant from Nintendo’s late ‘80’s video game Kung Fu. What it is, is a mid-tier Chinese professional basketball team moving beyond an American 7-footer who at one time was considered this generation’s Shaq.

It’s sad. Truly, it is. In spite of what Greg’s injuries – which were not his fault – did to an already fragile psyche of a town desperate to win, it had to be even more devastating to the young man and athlete who’d always been elite. He was the next “big thing.” Much before he was the number-one draft pick, before he took Ohio State to the Final Four, and even before he won Indiana’s Mr. Basketball Award, Greg was a sure thing. A once-in-a-generation big man gifted with the type of height, strength, and athleticism to dominate a game and change the future of a team or franchise lucky enough to get him. But since the first of many knee surgeries prior to his rookie season in 2007, it’s been one setback after another for a young man likely wondering what’s next?

 

He admittedly struggled with alcohol abuse during his time in Portland, suffered humiliation at the hands of social media as a result of a…well…let’s just say a regrettable picture scenario, and 2 years ago pleaded guilty to battery with moderate bodily injury, as a result of punching his former girlfriend. All poor choices worthy of criticism, yet all parts to a sum I can’t help but empathize with.

It’d be easy to take a “he made his bed, now he has to lie in it” approach to him, but I wouldn’t be human if I failed to at least acknowledge the sadness in it all.

He had a gift that was taken from him. While still seemingly well-off from his short stint in the NBA, he’ll never see the fortune he was all but guaranteed prior to his injuries. And he’ll forever be a punchline to NBA trivia revolving around the league’s biggest busts.

Life isn’t fair, we all can relate to that. But Greg was a rising star, a savoir for franchise, and a lottery winner simply waiting to cash-in from the time he first picked up a basketball. And now it’s all gone.

Good luck, Greg. Sadly, many haven’t forgiven you, but sadder yet, I think you’ve mostly been forgotten.