WASHINGTON (AFP) – Greg Oden spent the past four years undergoing knee surgeries and rehabilitation work, the 7-foot center and 2007 NBA Draft top pick finding his dream had become a nightmare.
But with a couple of slam dunks in his first NBA game in more than four years, the Miami Heat reserve offered hope that he might yet have something to contribute to the reigning NBA champions.
”Very happy,” Oden said. ”If you can make a couple of dunks, you must be able to play a little bit. It’s a great feeling.”
Oden slammed in a dunk Wednesday in a 114-97 loss at Washington in what was his first touch of the ball in an NBA game since December 5, 2009, when he suffered a left knee injury in the first quarter playing for Portland.
More than 1,500 days later, and just a week ahead of his 26th birthday, Oden played eight minutes and scored six points, including a slam dunk alley oop off a pass from superstar teammate LeBron James.
”It was great to see him out there,” James said. ”Hopefully he can continue to strengthen himself and be a big plus for us. Anything he can give us is a bonus.”
Oden was considered a future star when he was chosen first in the 2007 draft by the Trail Blazers, but underwent multiple knee operations and was released in March of 2012.
The Heat signed Oden before the season and he dedicated himself to slowly building his strength and easing the load on his repaired knees.
When a trade of Joel Anthony opened a spot on the active roster unexpectedly, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided to reward Oden by activating him.
When the Heat fell behind by 34 points in the second quarter, Spoelstra figured he had nothing to lose by playing him briefly.
”He has been doing a lot of work scrimmaging with the guys,” Spoelstra said. ”You see the signs and the activity. He is a skilled player for someone that big.
”He has been working very dilligently. He is getting stronger, getting healthier, all without skipping steps. We’re being very patient.”
Oden hopes slow progressive steps will keep him improving and avoid another injury setback.
”It’s a plan to keep me playing,” Oden said. ”I don’t want to just get out there and get injured again. I want to make sure I can go out there and keep playing. That’s the plan and we’re sticking to it.”