Greg Oden will tell you he’s the biggest bust in NBA history, going No. 1 overall to Portland in 2007 ahead of Kevin Durant, before a multitude of injuries derailed his career and saw him out of the league by 2014. Oden has since faded from the public eye, which is his preference, and returned to Ohio State to finish his degree and work as a student assistant with the basketball team.
In a profile of the former Buckeyes star, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham followed Oden for some time back at Ohio State, discussing life and basketball and how he found rock bottom in both before returning to Ohio State. The feature details Oden’s long battle with alcohol and painkiller addiction, noting he used to take a combination of painkillers and sleeping pills at night and drink until he fell asleep, and how that led to his domestic violence arrest in 2014 for hitting his then girlfriend.
Oden’s injuries and his overwhelming feeling of failure as he was unable to regain his physical form drove him to those dark places. Because his injuries were the starting point for his problems, Oden has thought a lot about what went wrong and why, after a healthy career through college, he suddenly fell apart, and he has a theory that orthotic inserts given to him by the Blazers played a key role in his injuries.
The reason the Blazers gave him special orthotic inserts was to level out his legs, as his right leg is eight millimeters shorter than his left leg, a result of a hip procedure after his massive growth spurt in sixth grade caused his hip to detach from the socket. Oden dealt with that and adapted to his legs over time, but when he got to the NBA, Portland tried to help even him out.
After Oden was drafted first overall by the Trail Blazers in 2007, one pick ahead of Kevin Durant, the team outfitted him with a special orthotic insert to even his legs. “Three weeks later, I’m in surgery,” he says. Oden can’t prove that the orthotic is the sole reason his body collapsed in the NBA. The wheels were in motion for his body to fall apart the moment he hit his first growth spurt on the way to 7 feet. Everything in his life since has been governed by it.
After rehabbing his way back from his first knee injury that caused him to miss his rookie season, Oden returned to the floor and, again, the Blazers offered him another insert to help him. He sprained his foot shortly after and then suffered his second knee injury later that year.
His knee injury after wearing the orthotics wiped out his first season. At the beginning of his second year, the team gave him an insert so thick that it pushed his right ankle past the rim of his high-tops. Thirteen minutes into his regular-season debut, he sprained his right foot and missed two weeks. Three and a half months later, he chipped his left kneecap and missed three more weeks.
It’s the ultimate “what if” scenario for Oden. We’ll never know if the orthotic inserts provided by the Blazers training staff — trying to do their best to help their top pick — caused his injuries, but it’s understandable why Oden would be looking for something that was out of the ordinary as the reason for his body suddenly breaking down.
It’s just as likely that his injuries could have happened anyways and that his knees and feet just weren’t able to keep up with the stress of his body, but that’s not a tangible answer, which is what anyone in his position would be striving to find. For Oden, the orthotics are the biggest change from his collegiate career to the pros, and it was during that jump that something happened and his body suddenly gave out.