Ohio State Alum Oden Eyeing NBA Championship

You'd have to go back 20 years to find the last time that a former Ohio State player won an NBA championship. But after completing one of the most unlikely comebacks in league history, former Buckeye and current Miami Heat center Greg Oden is on the verge of accomplishing just that.

In all likelihood, Greg Oden won't play a single second in the NBA Finals. In fact, he'll most likely be relegated to wearing a suit for the better part of the Miami Heat's best-of-seven clash with the San Antonio Spurs, which is tied at 1-1 heading into Tuesday night's Game Three.

But for the former Ohio State center and No. 1 overall pick, that's just fine.

Because for a player who recently referred to himself as "one of the biggest busts in NBA history," it's almost a miracle that he's even still on an active NBA roster -- let alone one competing for its third consecutive world championship. But after missing three full seasons of action with injuries from 2011-2013, that's exactly the position that the 7-0, 273-pounder finds himself in.

It's one that he's grateful for too, as evidenced by his celebration following the Heat's Eastern Conference championship clinching win over the Indiana Pacers. As teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade stood nearby for their fourth such ceremony in as many years, there was Oden in the middle of it all, clutching onto the Eastern Conference championship trophy that seemed like such an improbability for the former Buckeye just a year ago.

"I was happy," Oden said afterward. "I've never been here before, never won that before. So it was just an enjoyable night, and now it's time to go get the other trophy."

And then there was the locker room celebration that went viral mere hours later. With his superstar teammates again surrounding him, Oden held onto the championship trophy just as hard as he showcased the dance moves that he's been unintentionally known for since he showed up in Columbus nearly eight years ago.

Such celebrations were supposed to be the norm for Oden when he was selected first overall -- one pick ahead of now-reigning league MVP Kevin Durant -- by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2007 NBA Draft. But serious injuries to both of his knees cost Oden three full seasons in Portland and limited his career to just 82 games with the Blazers, who waived him from their roster in the spring of 2012.

Without an employer -- or a full bill of health -- Oden sat out the entire 2012-13 NBA season and even returned to classes at Ohio State for a brief period of time. But as the 2013-14 campaign neared, teams began showing interest in the former All-American with the two-time reigning world champion Heat ultimately winning the race for his services.

With a roster full of established stars and role players alike, Miami was afforded the opportunity to bring Oden along slowly with hopes that he'd eventually provide depth to their center position. Appearing in 23 regular season games and starting in six, Oden averaged 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 9.2 minutes per night in his debut season in Miami.

Thus far, he's appeared in just one playoff game for the Heat, grabbing one rebound in five minutes in the aforementioned conference championship-clinching blowout win over the Pacers. Yet despite his minimal role for Miami on the court, that hasn't taken the shine off of his comeback for Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.

"Greg Oden is one of the biggest success stories in this league, and unfortunately people are only judging him by the fact of how many minutes he plays," Spoelstra said prior to the start of the Finals. "Two years ago, people were saying he would never play the game again and he's available every night."

Being available and being active, however, are two different statuses and there's a good chance that the Indianapolis, Ind. native will only remain the former as the Finals carry on. But given where he's been and how far he's come, Oden would gladly swap spots with James and Wade at another trophy ceremony in the near future if it meant him becoming the first former Buckeye to win an NBA title since Chris Jent did so with the Houston Rockets in 1994.

"Those guys are definitely going for their legacy," Oden said. "I'm trying to get one. They've already got one. I'm just trying to get this first one. So I don't care if it's their third or sixth -- as long as I get one, I'm happy."


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