Miami Heat’s Greg Oden makes long-awaited return to NBA


I’m back. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Martell Webster was on the court for the fall. Webster was a few feet away from Greg Oden on Dec. 5, 2009, when Oden jumped to contest a layup by Houston Rockets guard Aaron Brooks, collapsed to floor, grabbed his left knee and writhed around in pain. Taking a lap around Oden to check on his then-Portland Trailblazers teammate, Webster could only gasp at another bad break for a former No. 1 overall pick whose career stayed grounded because of injuries.

“I was right there, I saw what happened,” Webster said. “The aftermath, there’s no words for that.”

More than four years later, Webster was on the court for Oden’s first game since the injury. Webster was out near LeBron James when he looked over his right shoulder to see Oden seal off Marcin Gortat, grab Dwyane Wade’s air ball with both hands, then elevate for a two-handed dunk in the second quarter of the Wizards’ 114-97 victory over the Miami Heat.

After a long, arduous journey, interrupted by several setbacks, more knee surgeries and even thoughts of retirement, Oden was finally active for an NBA regular season game. With his knees heavily wrapped, Oden made an immediate difference in his first eight minutes of action, providing an imposing presence on both ends while helping Miami cut a 34-point deficit to 21 by halftime. He finished with six points, including another two-handed slam after taking a pass from James, grabbed two rebounds and altered several shots inside.

“It felt good, just being able to be back out on the court,” Oden said afterward. “Honestly, the big thing is to be able to have now that connection now with my teammates. I’ve been here, I’ve been around, but when you’re not playing, sometimes deep down you don’t really feel part of the team as much. I’m happy I can do that.”

The Heat only activated Oden because the team had just traded Joel Anthony to Boston earlier in the day and Chris Andersen was out with knee soreness. When asked why he put Oden out there, Erik Spoelstra replied, “We were down 30.”

Oden will forever been remembered as the player taken before District native Kevin Durant in 2007. But he is no longer expected to be a franchise-altering big man, set to lead his team to multiple championships and claim multiple all-star appearances and defensive player of the year awards. James said Oden has “no pressure.”

Miami is bringing Oden along slowly, hoping to mostly keep him encased in bubble wrap until they need the 7-foot bruiser in the playoffs to contend with Indiana’s Roy Hibbert in the Eastern Conference finals or possibly San Antonio’s Tim Duncan if they get together for an NBA Finals rematch. With the image of Oden’s last appearance still fresh in his memory, Webster is happy to see Oden back jumping again – and landing on both feet.

“To see him come back from that is amazing,” Webster said. “That kid’s like a little brother to me. I’m very happy and proud of that kid, for making his entry back into the NBA. I felt he always should’ve been here and at the top. And the fact that he’s back and he looks healthy – he’s a step slow, but with time that’ll all come back – just in itself, through all the injuries and everything he’s gone through in life, just the fact that he’s out there and showing glimpses of the old Greg, hopefully, he can get it back on track.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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