Yes, we have a couple of commenters on this site who can’t wait to write it every time Oden’s name is mentioned. Pardon me if I refrain from that kind of talk. I’m not ready to give up on Oden yet, especially after the first 20 games of last season, when he was Portland’s MVP.
But I bring some historical context to this discussion that a lot of you don’t have. Let me tell you about the first two seasons Bill Walton spent in Portland. He was injured enough that he managed to play just 86 games. But more than that, the guy was ridiculed from one end of town to the other.
A bust? Everyone thought the guy was totally broken.
People made fun of his politics, his appearance, his off-court habits, his eating habits — and his ability. What Oden is going through now is nothing compared to what Walton put up with. Doug LaMear, one of Portland’s most revered television sports personalities, said on the air one night that the team should trade Walton away “for a six-pack of carrot juice” — a reference to Walton’s vegetarian diet.
Even during the magical 1976-77 season, Walton played in only 65 games. He followed that with just 58 games the following season and was basically done after that. His body — his feet in particular — just couldn’t handle the stress that the NBA brought.
But there’s a banner hanging in the rafters of the Rose Garden right now that wouldn’t be there without Bill Walton. It says, “Champions, 1976-77.” And without Bill Walton, that banner is but a dream.
Now Greg Oden is no Bill Walton. Especially on offense. But I could also make the case that Oden’s impact in today’s game could end up being just as big because there is simply not nearly as many quality centers in today’s game as there were when Walton played. In those days, great centers were sprinkled throughout the league. Now, though, Oden — even with his rough-around-the-edges offensive game — could be in the group of the top two or three centers, if he’s healthy.
And that’s what you have to continue to wait for, if you’re the Blazers. You have to run it all the way out as long as you can — just waiting. Because the reward is that big. The guy, when and if he’s healthy, is a game changer.
At least that’s what I believe. Now you can argue he’s never going to be healthy enough to show that ability and really, I can’t argue it. I just don’t know. But really, I don’t think you can argue about the impact he can have on a game. We’ve seen that — foul trouble or not. The guy’s statistical comps match up with some of the game’s greats.
One thing I’ve learned the hard way in this business is to not write people off too soon. Don’t make judgments too soon. Don’t jump to conclusions.
And it’s too soon to write off Greg Oden.