Ed: bumped to top, news items posted below
Here's audio of Mark Titus of Grantland.com discussing his interview with former Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden on 1080 AM The Fan with Isaac Ropp and Big Suke. Thanks to Dusty Harrah for the link.
Blazers president Larry Miller issued a statement in response to the article here.
Here's a transcript of the interview.
Most people are excited about it. Maybe excited isn't a great word but it's been well-received because it gives a look at a guy who doesn't do a lot of interviews, you don't really know a lot about him. Frankly, maybe not Portland people, but he's been out of a lot of people's minds because he hasn't played in a long time. It was a really candid interview, which doesn't really surprise me knowing Greg but I'm sure surprised a lot of people, the stuff he talked about in the interview. There are a lot of Portland fans who are less than pleased I think but for the most part there are even more Blazers fans that enjoyed it. Certainly it changed a lot of people's perceptions. You don't really think about Greg or any athlete as being a human. When you say the name Greg Oden, you automatically think he's a failure or a bust and you dismiss him. I wanted to write an article to show that he had a human side to him and that there's more to his life than basketball.
Did you know he would open up?
A little bit because he never said anything but I could tell inside that he was dying for his story to get out there. He doesn't do interviews, the perception is that he's a bust. You don't think about him as a person. Maybe there's more going on to his life than just the fact that he's hurt. You don't really know what the pressure has done to him, being the No. 1 overall pick. It's easy for a lot of people to say, 'Woe is me, he has millions of dollars, he's set for life' and all that and the goal of this article was to say, 'All that's great, but at the same time, it's this kid who had a dream, he got really close to his dream and it looks like he's not going to be able to accomplish that dream.' That's just a sad story. That's what I wanted to get through to him. He's always been dying to get that story out. That there's more to his life. His friend passed away, his cousin passed away, his dog passed away, and what have you. He hasn't been able to tell that because he doesn't really trust the media I don't think. Having that relationship with him, he trusted me and it worked out well. I was able to get him to open up a little bit.
Does article paint him in a negative light because he drank himself out of the league, is blaming others, etc.?
In Greg's defense, he didn't blame anybody but himself. Anything you read in the article that you get the feeling he's blaming other people, that was probably me sticking up for him a little bit. I wrote in the article, I tried to bait him into saying that it's Portland's fault that he kept getting hurt. He wouldn't say it. He said, 'No, listen, I made the decision, I knew I didn't feel well, if I didn't want to come back, I could have just said no.' He takes responsibility but it was more or less me sticking up for him. I don't know if people got that confused or what but he's never blamed anything on anybody. I get that, I get the thought that he's a millionaire and he's set for life and he made a ton of mistakes.
I don't know, to me, you don't think of him as a human being. He's 19 years old coming into the league and you think back to when you're 19 and what you had going on. His best friend had just passed away, his best friend dies in a car accident, then he gets all the pressure of being the No. 1 pick, then he's hurt, he has to hear a year of 'Here comes Sam Bowie 2.0' and all that stuff. I can't even imagine being in that position. When I was 19 I was dumped by my girlfriend and I was in depression for a month. I can't imagine my best friend passing away, every time you look on the internet, someone is talking about how you're a bust and you're not playing. Maybe he could have handled it better but certainly there are people handling things different ways.
For him, he admits that turning to alcohol wasn't the right decision. I admire him for wanting that in the article. When he brought it up, I said, 'Greg, I'm not going to put this in the article.' He said, 'No, I want it in there. I want people to know the struggle I had.' He did bring it upon himself but still it's something he had to work through and grow through. He's since become a better person and more mature. It shows the path that he takes. He's just a 19 year old kid, 20, 21, trying to figure out this lifestyle. It's easy to say, 'You should be different because you're an NBA player,' but in a lot of ways it doesn't work that way. If I was thrown into that same situation I don't know if he could handle it any better. I get the criticism, but being his friend obviously I'm a little biased.
I think at the end of the day he's a human being and he makes mistakes. He's taken responsibility for his mistakes and he's certainly not blaming anything on anybody else. If anybody gets the impression that he is, then I take that responsibility because it was me putting blame on someone else.
What did Greg mean when he said that Portland isn't a great city for a young, black athlete?
Honestly I don't really know because I can't imagine what a good city would be to be in if you have a ton of money and you're famous and you're young. I don't know what city would be. I kind of looked at him like, 'What do you mean?' and he was like, 'That's all I'm going to say' but he had this look on his face like there was some deeper meaning. I've never been to Portland so I don't know what he was talking about. I don't know, maybe you guys can fill in the dots. I honestly have no idea and he didn't want to follow up on that. I don't know.
There were warning signs? People talked about it?
I think I played with 10 guys at Ohio State who are in the NBA so a lot of my former teammates and coach Matta at Ohio State talked to Greg a lot during that time. A lot of people said the same thing: he's down in the dumps, he's depressed, he just wasn't himself. The way he was coping with it was alcohol. It just had an adverse effect on him. Even in the summer he would come to Columbus, I think it was the summer after he had been hurt all year, after his rookie season, he lived in Columbus in the summer and he was that way too -- he's usually a laid back guy, doesn't like to go out, when he was at Ohio State he would sit in the dorm all night, wasn't the type to go out to party or anything.
That summer he was out about every night and going to bars and doing all that. You kind of got the feeling that this isn't him. I heard that throughout the season from all sorts of my former teammates, that they saw Greg, that he's not himself, he's down in the dumps, he's not handling his friend's death well or the stuff that's going on in Portland well, you kind of feel for him. That's what I took away from his alcohol issue. He was depressed. I'm his friend and I'm biased but I took it like he's in a dark place and he is just having a terrible go at things right now versus he's a young athlete out partying trying to find girls and cause trouble.
No one stepped in?
I don't want to make excuses for myself but at that point I kind of lost touch with him. I didn't really feel like it was my place. I didn't really feel like I was close enough to say something. I was hearing all this stuff from other people. It wasn't my place. I don't know why anybody didn't step in. Maybe we thought he would figure it out on his own. Or you say to yourself, 'That's all the NBA guys, they all like to party and be irresponsible.' I don't know. That's the big mystery. He just needs someone to step in to guide him to tell him when to come back to play versus sit out and keep rehabbing and he really just needed a mentor. I don't know why he never had that. Looking back, it makes the story sad.
Portland surely had support system for him right? He needs to take responsibility for not accepting help?
I would agree with that. I'm sure Portland reached out, I'm sure Greg was reluctant and all that kind of stuff. I have no idea in my mind that that probably happened. It's just a matter of why the connection wasn't made. I'm sure it was partially his fault, it was partially that he didn't feel comfortable with whoever Portland was trying to set him up with. He's very much an introverted guy. I talked about that in the beginning of the article. He likes keeping to himself. Maybe he didn't feel comfortable with that or what. I have no problem admitting that. Greg doesn't have a problem admitting that. That he's certainly at fault than anybody else in his whole career path. He's certainly been very unlucky but he probably could have done some things differently and had it turn out a little bit differently.
Does he think Blazers let him down?
I don't know. I don't think he does. I think he just kind of thinks it's a situation that there was zero win situation. It was just a bad situation. It was a bad fit for him. I think he realizes that he was going to get hurt anywhere. He wouldn't blame anything on Portland. I know enough people in the basketball circle, writers and players and coaches, and the consensus seems to be that Portland doesn't have a great medical staff. That's what everyone seems to say. That their medical staff isn't very good. During the interview, I brought that up to Greg. 'Listen, admit it, if you weren't in Portland, you would have been healthy after your first surgery, you would be OK right now.' And he was like, 'No, I don't think that. I just think I just have bad luck and keep getting hurt and I don't think Portland has anything to do with it.' I don't think he has any ill will towards Portland necessarily.
They certainly did a few things, there was a bit about the psychologist in the article that he was less than thrilled with. But I think he understands that the fans treated him very well and were very welcoming and in a lot of places he would have been booed the second he got hurt. Portland fans were always behind him and the front office could have cut him loose much earlier than what they did and I think he's grateful for that. Like any boss -- employer/employee relationship -- there's probably a little tension that was there but I don't think there was anything damning that would make him look bad.
Is he good with his money?
Yeah he is. This is a funny story. After dinner, he drove me to his house and the car the valet brings up is a big van that he had kind of tricked out. It probably cost him like $18,000, like a normal economy van or something like that. He had the inside tricked out a little, nothing too crazy, it just had lights, some cool little CD player. I looked at him, like, 'Really?' He's like, 'Yeah, I don't want to waste my money on flashy cars.' Then he was like, 'But you know what? One week after I bought this van I found out Kevin Durant has had the exact same van for two years.' I just laughed at him. He's like, 'I can never get out of Kevin Durant's shadow' and he started rolling his eyes and laughing about it. He's good with his money. I think he'll be OK.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter