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Whether by karma or plain bad luck, Oden's the NBA's most unfortunate

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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Oden fractured his kneecap in Dec. 9, 2009, resulting in the second of several surgeries. (Getty Images)  
Oden fractured his kneecap in Dec. 9, 2009, resulting in the second of several surgeries. (Getty Images)  

Somewhere there may be a universe that explains why Greg Oden's skeletal structure hates him so. A foul and evil place where Oden has swindled widows or abandoned orphans or lied and cheated and been an all-around cad.

I mean, at least if you believe karma is everywhere and never gets the wrong guy or skips around haphazardly.

But on this plane of existence, Oden is just a guy whose bones have conspired against him just because they can. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine what he has done to merit such buzzard's luck.

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Oden just completed his third procedure to fix a microfracture, which was discovered as he was having surgery to clean out his left knee. He has now missed 3½ times as many seasons as he's played, and hasn't been in a game since October 2009.

All because his legs either cannot support his frame and/or because the strains and stresses of a game played on hardwood are more than his supporting tissues can endure.

If there is an unluckier man in the NBA, it is hard to imagine whom. Oden is one poor unfortunate bastard.

And yes, I said "poor" knowing full well how much money the Portland Trail Blazers have paid him since drafting him first on 2007. But this -- and I know this borders on blasphemy -- isn't about the money.

Yes, Oden cashed in well, as any first pick would. Then he missed his entire rookie season to microfracture surgery on his right knee. So he got a second rookie season and played 61 games of it, but also started collecting those other injuries -- before fracturing his left kneecap, he also chipped it -- and since then has been almost entirely either rehabbing and prepping for surgery.

In short, he wants to play, for any number of reasons -- beginning with he doesn't want to be labeled an all-time draft bust based on fragility the way Sam Bowie was a generation and a half ago, but also because he wants to show he actually was worth the time and faith the Blazers showed in him, because he wants to be known as a player and, if you must go there, because he might like another payday or two.

And while there are those of you who would cheerfully say, "Give me $5 million a year and you can operate on my knee any time you want," those of you who would say that are fools. Money is fungible, even that much money, whereas the deprivation of one's livelihood tends to eat at the soul after a while. Oden is becoming caricatured as someone with a corn-chip frame on top of losing the ability to play the game he has always enjoyed, and it takes a lot more money than he has been paid to fill that void.

I mean, this isn't like a guy who's already had some good times. He played 61 games of his second rookie year and 21 of his third season, which means he'll have missed the equivalent of four of his first five seasons, and never has been able to go from start to finish in any of them.

That's just harsh on harsh. And we as a culture are not a forgiving lot.

Oden has been pretty much out of sight/out of mind because of the injuries, so that the only real news on him inevitably seems to include the word "setback." This is yet another, and when you pile them atop each other, you wonder whether he has the fortitude to come back again, knowing what the denouement has been the other times he has tried.

But nobody has told him to give up yet, and he has given no indication that he intends to. There is still the hope of a brand new game where he walks onto the floor, hears the National Anthem, strips off his warmup pants and heads to the center circle like he's never been away, and the crowd rises as one to thank him for not chucking it after all the times he could have.

But that day seems so far off now, and it makes a person wonder whether it will ever come, or if there is a plane of existence where Greg Oden had this coming. Because here, all we know is that he has mastered bad luck for its own sake.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

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