Of all the inspirational success stories of pro athletes fighting through injury, the best of them all might be Grant Hill.
Hill, 38, is playing in his 17th season. He's a seven-time All-Star, one of the most respected veterans in the league and he has a shot at having a plaque in Springfield someday. Some may consider it a miracle he's still around.
On Jan. 16, 2003, the Orlando Magic shut Hill down for the season with an ankle injury. Two months later, he underwent major reconstructive surgery on his left leg and complications arose when he contracted a staph infection.
His coach at the time happened to be Doc Rivers.
"I was in a hospital room with Grant Hill," Rivers said Wednesday. "They were literally thinking about amputation when he had the staph infection. I mean literally, it was hours away."
Why is this relevant today? Because Rivers cited Hill on Wednesday night as a potentially inspirational figure for oft-injured Blazers center Greg Oden.
Oden has had four surgeries in his short career in the NBA, as knee ailments have derailed him from living up to his potential as a No. 1 overall draft pick. Hill, likewise, had four ankle operations back in the day. Both men have heard countless doubters speculate about whether they could ever overcome their injuries.
The Blazers announced on Nov. 17 that Oden needed microfracture surgery and would be out for yet another season. This year alone, a trio of big men — Antonio McDyess, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Kenyon Martin — have proved that there is life after injuries. But Oden might learn more from the story of Hill, who persevered when not only his career, but his life was on the line.
"The fact that he's still playing today is the miracle of all miracles," Rivers said of Hill. "Anything can happen."
Hill was 30 back in the spring of 2003. Oden is still only 22, and he could still have his whole career in front of him.
"You would love for him to be able to play," Rivers said. "I always feel for players who get injured. It's tough for the kid. For the fans, it's frustrating, whatever. But it's not more frustrating for them than it is for Greg Oden. That's who you really feel sorry for. The Trail Blazers get to play games. They [played Wednesday], and they're going to keep playing all year. But Greg Oden, he doesn't get to play. That's tough."
In four seasons, Oden has played just 82 regular-season games (as well as six postseason games). But if he knows his history, he knows that others have fought through worse. He can't give up now.
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