Sometimes, the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft lives up to all the hype, becomes a superstar and lives happily ever after. History shows plenty of examples — Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan and LeBron James are a few from the last two decades.
Other times, the top dog loses his bite, and he hears the word "bust" every day for the rest of his life. We'll never forget the cautionary tales of Pervis Ellison, Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown.
Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, is now teetering on the brink between those two groups. When he's played, he's been one of the best big men in today's NBA, with his per-minute numbers showing him as one of the game's two or three most productive centers. And he's still only 22, with plenty of years ahead of him to showcase the talents that made him a No. 1 pick.
But when news broke Wednesday of Oden needing microfracture surgery on his left knee, sidelining him for yet another season, serious doubt was cast upon Oden's potential as a franchise center.
Oden's plight has been the talk of the NBA for the last 24 hours. And in the Celtics' corner, there's only one guy around that understands the pressures of being the top pick in the NBA draft. That guy addressed the media Thursday.
"When you're the No. 1 pick, you're either 'this' or you're 'that,'" Shaquille O'Neal said. "I'm sure [Oden] wanted to be on the 'this' side, as David Robinson and Patrick Ewing and all those guys are. But now, because of his injuries, he's in the 'that.' Hopefully one day he can come back and turn it around. But after so many knee surgeries, I don't see it."
O'Neal, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 draft, understands the media scrutiny that comes with being anointed at a young age. And he had nothing but positive hopes for Oden, but he also expressed a pessimistic outlook for a 22-year-old big man about to go under the knife for the fourth time.
He also expressed concern for Oden's Portland Trail Blazers, who have experienced a litany of knee injuries in the past year. Veteran center Joel Przybilla underwent microfracture surgery last December and hasn't played since, rookie Elliot Williams had knee surgery and will miss the whole season, and now Brandon Roy is battling knee pain as well. The Blazers are trying to contend for a championship, but they almost literally don't have a leg to stand on.
"As a detective," O'Neal mused, "[Oden and Pryzbilla] have the same knee injury, right? What's that telling you? I don't want to say nothing, but what is that telling you? What are the odds? What is the probability of that happening?"
For someone who didn't want to say anything, O'Neal sure had a lot to say. He pressed on, even bringing up a personal anecdote from his past.
"Maybe it's all the drills they're doing or something," O'Neal said of the Blazers. "A lot of times when you deal with people, they want to make everybody do the same thing. I actually almost got thrown out of college for not squatting. I had a guy telling me, 'Don't squat.' But when I went to LSU, we had a football coach that was our conditioning coach, and he was like, 'Squat.' I said, 'No, I can't squat. I'm not squatting.' He told me, 'Get the [expletive] out of the gym.' But I was told not to squat."
Life is hard when you're seven feet tall and 300 pounds. Your body is fragile, and you never know what could bring you down.
Shaquille O'Neal is lucky to have made it 18 years in this league, going on 20. He only hopes Greg Oden can experience that same luck someday.
"I wish him well," O'Neal said. "I hope he can come back."