For the first time in nearly four years, Greg Oden appeared in an NBA game, when the huge center checked in with 5:15 to play in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s 108-95 exhibition victory over New Orleans Pelicans at New Orleans Arena.
“It’s been a long time,” Oden explained in the locker room afterward. “It’s been a long road for me, just to get that off my back, my first step tonight.”
Teammates were even more emotional.
“It was a very special moment,” forward LeBron James said. “I have no idea what my feelings would be like being away from the game for three years, and it was a proud moment. I was so excited for him when he got on the court and checked in.
“I might have to toast this for him. I ain’t no drinker, but I might have to take a shot for him.”
Signed in the offseason to a one-year, veteran-minimum free-agent contract, the appearance ended years of questions of whether the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft ever would make it all the way back from a series of knee microfracture surgeries.
Licking his fingers upon entering, Oden dunked on his first and only attempt, altered a pair of shots, missed a pair of free throws, grabbed two rebounds, committed two turnovers, was called for two fouls and then exited for good with 1:16 to play before halftime.
“His first basket is a dunk; can you write it any better?” James said.”Obviously he’s not where he wants to be, but the process is going great. I was extremely happy for him. I’m so happy for him. It’s like a big brother seeing his little brother succeed again. It was great.”
It was Oden’s first action since Dec. 5, 2009 with the Portland Trail Blazers, his first action in 1,418 days.
“I’m happy I’m able to walk off this court and I’m able to play another day,” he said.
During a timeout during his lone stint, Oden, 25, went to the bench with a wide grin, sharing a hand slap with Heat forward Shane Battier, taking a chest punch from teammate Michael Beasley.
“As a teammate and a friend it was tremendous to see him out there,” Battier.
Oden played alongside Heat starting center Chris Bosh, creating the possibility of more time this season for Bosh back in his previous role at power forward. Udonis Haslem opened at power forward Wednesday, with Bosh again starting at center.
It was Bosh who fed Oden for the dunk. Which was good to see big man to big man, this should have many Heat fans including “myself” excited for a 3PEAT.
“It was just a read,” Bosh said. “He’s a big target out there. I told him to be ready.”
The Heat won despite falling behind by 15 points to an opponent that entered 6-0 in the preseason. James led the way with 27 points in 29 minutes, supported by 25 points from Dwyane Wade and 14 from Bosh.