NBA: What’s up with Blazers and their big men?

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 3, 2008

By Anne Peterson
Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. ó Greg Oden’s latest injury sent a shudder through the Trail Blazers, conjuring memories of Sam Bowie and Bill Walton.
Portland has a bleak history when it comes to drafting big men and some wonder whether the 7-footer’s sprained foot portends trouble.
Oden was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft but was gone even before his rookie season started because of surgery on his right knee. Then days ago, in his delayed NBA debut, he went down against the Los Angeles Lakers and is expected to miss two to four weeks.
Longtime Blazers broadcaster Bill Schonely, who was around for the glory days of the 1977 championship, urges patience.
“Just let the kid grow up,” Schonely said. “He’s going to get bigger, he’s going to get better. He just wants to be a teammate right now. We all need to let him be.”
Bowie is considered one of the biggest busts in draft history, fairly or unfairly. The Blazers took the 7-1 center with the No. 2 overall pick ó ahead of a young man out of North Carolina named Michael Jordan.
While Bowie played in 76 games his rookie season, averaging 10 points and 8.6 rebounds, he appeared in just 63 games over the next four seasons because of injuries. He missed the entire 1987-88 season. In all, he had five operations on his legs.
Jordan went on to become, well, Michael Jordan.
Bowie is a gracious and private man who settled with his family in Kentucky. After Oden’s microfracture surgery, he spoke with ESPN.
“Obviously, with the past history of the team and my situation, he’s walked into some quicksand, shall we say. I just hope this kid gets a chance to prove all of the doubters wrong,” Bowie said.
Walton was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1974, and, like Oden, was expected to produce mightily. But his first two seasons were beset by injury, with a broken nose, leg, foot and wrist.
Then came the 1976-77 season when the Blazers won the title in their first trip to the postseason, with Walton the MVP of the finals.
“Of course he went on to have a great career,” Schonely said, “proving that you can never tell what is going to happen.”
Oden has had a history of injuries, not uncommon for someone his size. He sat out the first seven games of his only season at Ohio State after surgery on his right wrist. After he was drafted in 2007, Oden played in two summer league games but came down with tonsillitis. Knee surgery followed.
The Blazers held him out all of last season so his knee could completely recover. There were a few anxious moments when Oden rolled his ankle in the first practice of the fall, but it wasn’t serious.
His foot injury in the opening 96-76 loss to the Lakers on Tuesday night left Blazers fans holding their collective breaths. They exhaled the day after when the diagnosis wasn’t so bad.
“I want to be out there. But what can you do?” Oden said at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin, Ore. “It could have happened to anybody out there. I was playing physical and I was in there playing and it happens.”
Oden was in a boot but had no visible limp as he arrived for the Blazers’ home opener, a 100-99 victory over San Antonio on Friday night. General manager Kevin Pritchard dismissed the doom-and-gloom links to Bowie and Walton.
“No comparison,” he said. “He’s run into some bad luck. But we think he’s going to have a tremendous career. And we back and support him fully.”