Top draft pick Greg Oden to miss rookie season with Trail Blazers
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The season-ending injury to Greg Oden dredged up a bad memory for Portland Trail Blazers fans -- that fateful draft day in 1984 when the team used the second overall pick to choose Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan.
Bowie proved injury-prone and Jordan proved to be, well, Jordan.
The news Thursday that the No. 1 pick in the June draft is out for the season after knee surgery brought inevitable comparisons. Should Portland have gone with Texas star Kevin Durant, who went to Seattle with the second selection?
The Blazers organization was standing firm by the decision.
"If you could look in (Oden's) eyes today, you will see that this kid is what we want, and I have no doubt he will be back. I always believe things happen for a reason," Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said. "People need to realize: Oden will be back."
And it remains to be seen whether Oden's future will prove as bleak as Bowie's and what has been called one of the worst draft debacles ever.
In 1984, the Houston Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwan with the top pick. Then the Blazers selected Bowie, passing on Michael Jordan, who went third to the Bulls. Later, Charles Barkley and John Stockton were selected.
The 7-foot-1 Bowie played four seasons with Portland, averaging 10.5 points, but he was plagued by injuries and had leg surgery as many as five times. He retired in 1995 after stints with the New Jersey Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even Pritchard and coach Nate McMillan recalled Bowie when the news about Oden broke, but that didn't shake their confidence.
"We talked about it internally, Nate and I, but the one thing we do know is that we picked the right player," Pritchard said. "Greg is a wonderful human being. He is going to be a great basketball player."
Said McMillan: "Greg Oden was our man. He still is our man."
The loss of Oden stings in part because the Blazers appeared to be finally turning a corner after several down years for a once-proud franchise.
Not only had the Blazers struggled on the floor, missing the playoffs four straight years, their reputation was stung by player arrests and misconduct, earning the team the nickname "Jail Blazers."
The turnaround started in earnest last year when the Blazers got LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy in the draft. Roy, the personable face of the franchise, went on to be chosen the NBA's rookie of the year.
Then Portland won the draft lottery, landing the rights to the top pick. At a party the night of the draft, fans showed up in droves at the Rose Garden, chanting "Oden! Oden!" and celebrating at center court when the selection was made.
Despite being hampered by a wrist injury at Ohio State, Oden averaged 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds last season as a freshman. He led the Buckeyes to the national championship game and had 25 points and 12 rebounds in the loss to Florida.
On Thursday, Oden had microfracture surgery to repair cartilage damage in his right knee. He is expected to miss the upcoming season.
"There has been so much excitement about the anticipation of this young team getting out on the floor and playing in front of our fans and the national market," coach McMillan said. "To know that Greg wouldn't be with us, it was disappointing."
As for fans who bought season tickets, there were about 20 requests for refunds or cancellations Thursday. The team does not offer refunds.
But Blazers president Larry Miller said the team was already generating excitement before Oden, and he's confident it will continue without the 7-footer.
"I think fans felt good about the direction this team has been going, and I think the things Kevin and Nate have done over the last couple of years have really gotten people supportive of this team, and I don't think that support is going anywhere," he said.
For the Blazers players, it was all still sinking in.
"We were all very disappointed, but more for him, because this was his rookie season and he had a lot of pressure on his shoulders," Roy said on the team's weekly radio show Thursday night. "And we knew he couldn't wait to get out there for his first game."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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