Greg Oden: Recovering Life After Losing  NBA Career to Injury and Alcoholism

Greg Oden: Recovering Life After Losing NBA Career to Injury and Alcoholism

(Novus writes inspirational stories of people in the news who have overcome addiction. This is not to imply that these people are connected to Novus Medical Detox Center but simply to provide hope and encouragement to those fighting addiction.)

No one who follows basketball, especially in Indianapolis, was the least bit surprised back in 2005 when 17-year-old Lawrence North High School star Greg Oden - with another year still to go at school - announced he'd already been accepted by Ohio State's acclaimed Buckeyes basketball program for the 2006-7 season.

The powerful 250-lb teenager, at a towering 7 ft tall, had already led his high school to two state championships. And to no one's great surprise, in 2006 Oden helped take Lawrence to their third consecutive State championship in a row.

In 2005 and 2006, Oden was named twice as Parade High School Player of the Year and Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year. He was also named 2006 Indiana Mr. Basketball by the Indianapolis Star and named to McDonald's All-American Team. Oden went on to play in the All-American game, earning first-team Parade All-American honors for the second straight year.

No wonder that the local sports media, NBA-watchers and countless Indiana fans fully expected Oden to be drafted into the NBA sooner rather than later. And they were all proven correct. After just one season in Ohio with the Buckeyes, Oden entered the 2007 NBA draft, and in June was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers as the #1 overall pick.

A dark cloud

But even before Oden said goodbye to high school in Indiana to make the 2½ hour drive due east to Columbus and Ohio State, a dark cloud entered his life.

That cloud was a series of repeated, debilitating injuries. They started in high school and followed Oden to Ohio State and on to the NBA. Then they helped end his career.

The first was a wrist injury in high school that delayed his start with the Buckeyes. Back on court he was a star again, making First Team All-Big Ten and Defensive Player of the Year.

Then came Portland, an ailing right knee, microsurgery and a missed first season. Without going through the details, that was followed by a foot injury, and four or five more knee surgeries, missed months and missed seasons. The Blazers cut him loose in 2012. Oden took the rest of that season off. A one-year deal with the Miami Heat in 2013 led to the NBA finals, but a loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Oden's contributions were moderate. Miami didn't renew his contract.

In 2015, with no NBA prospects, Oden played a season in China. It paid well, but was far from the man's dreams. Back in the States in 2016, he faced reality. His basketball career was over.

The solution becomes the problem

Oden's epidemic of injuries and loss of a career had led Oden to despair. Athletes know about action, competing and winning, not about the despair of losing everything, permanently.

For Oden, the solution to failure and regret was alcohol.

But it didn't start after returning from China, or after being dropped by Miami, or even after the Portland Trail Blazers let him go in 2012. It began back in the early days with the Blazers when he was forced to sit out for months and whole seasons. By 2009, when he wasn't playing he was drinking.

Oden's cousin was helping him during the surgical recoveries. "My cousin got wrapped up in the NBA lifestyle and threw parties at my house all the time. So I got wrapped up in it too," Oden told Indianapolis Star sports reporter Dana Hunsinger Benbow. "When I played well, I'd drink to celebrate. And when I played poorly, I'd drink to forget. That second year in Portland I pretty much became an alcoholic. You just keep on numbing yourself with alcohol trying not to think about it."

Oden described drinking all day and falling into "a dark oblivion," and then waking up and going straight for a bottle to get through the next day, and throwing up everything he tried to eat.

"The life of the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft," Benbow wrote, "had been whittled down to nothing more than a shell of an existence. Oden huddled in a dark house nearly 10 years after that triumphant moment, isolated, with alcohol-induced bulimia. He would watch the old NBA YouTube clips of himself, knowing he shouldn't. He would sob. He still heard the words echo: 'Greg Oden is the biggest bust in the NBA.'"

Back at college and winning again

Sick and tired of the suffering and the drinking, Oden had something of a breakthrough around 2015. He had met a woman named Sabrina, and after some up and down times, they got it together and he stopped drinking, inspired to seek a new life.

Two years ago they had a child, a little girl named Londyn, and the three now live just off campus at Ohio State in Columbus. In 2016, Oden decided to go back to Ohio State and finish the degree course he was on before leaving for the NBA.

"It's simple as this," Oden told the IndiStar about his decision and his daughter. "How can I tell her go to school and get an education if I did not get one? I want to be that example."
Even better, Buckeye's coach Thad Matta had invited Oden to accept a job as a student manager and coach with the team while he finishes up his degree. "I want Greg Oden around here," Matta said. "I go back to when I first started here, and [one of] the first guys I went to see was Greg Oden."

The deal was signed, it's three years later, and this May, 2019, Oden will walk proudly across the stage and accept his diploma in sport industry. Hopefully, someday soon, he'll be able to show it to his daughter as an inspiration for her future.

At Novus, we know that the decision to no longer be the effect of drugs or alcohol is a major step on the road to recovery. Just as Greg Oden did, anyone can make that decision and start a new life.

Start Your New Path to Sobriety Today!

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