A $22 million NBA contract is little consolation when hunched over a toilet staring at your vomit.
Greg Oden would like to say he spent time on his bathroom floor only occasionally, but the former Ohio State center regularly sprawled his 7-foot frame on the tile, forcing a gag reflex to rid his system of alcohol.
Alcohol-induced bulimia was how Oden dealt with the death of the familiar. Without basketball, who was he?
“It was after I was done playing in China (in 2016). By the time I got back, I probably drank every day, basically numbed myself to forget those feelings that it was over,” Oden said.
Slumped in a chair at the Ohio Union, Oden shared his struggles last week during an Ohio State Sports and Society Initiative panel discussion titled “When Sports End.”
Now 31, Oden recalled sitting alone at home, crying while watching YouTube clips of Kevin Durant, the second player selected in the 2007 NBA draft. Oden went No. 1, then played only 105 games in a career shortened by injuries.
Durant became an NBA All-Star. Oden became a mess, the low point coming after a day of drinking in 2014 when he was arrested and charged with one count of battery after assaulting his ex-girlfriend, leading to domestic violence counseling and probation.
Oden explained that drinking offered escape, but too much free time was the incubator that allowed alcohol to take hold in the first place.
“I never thought this was going to be over. I thought I would keep on playing,” he said. “You never look at the end while you’re playing, but when you see it, oh gosh, it’s like, ‘Did I prepare?’ I was caught off-guard. I would wake up and wonder what to do. I’d go work out and not know what I was going to do tonight. It was a whole lot of loss for me.”
On one hand, it can be hard to feel sorry for Oden. A lot of working folks fall on hard times without having millions to fall back on. But empathy also is in order. Wealthy or poor, bent over a toilet is no way to live. True, Oden does not have to work. But he needed to work. Doing nothing was ruining him.
Finally, in 2016 he reached out to Thad Matta, who in 2006 recruited the big fella to Ohio State. The Buckeyes reached the NCAA Tournament championship game in Oden’s one-and-done season.
“He’s like, ‘Just come here to the gym. Watch practice. Be around guys,’ ” Oden said of the encouragement he received from Matta. “That really helped me out to give me some direction and meaning.”
Renewal began. Oden found a sense of belonging, not as a player but as a student manager. He re-entered school and will graduate May 5 with a degree in sport industry.
Oden still runs around, but now it’s at home chasing his daughter, Londyn.
“My time that I enjoyed partying is now spent with my 2-year-old baby girl,” he said.
Oden has found peace and purpose. He is married, sober and plans to launch a coaching career.
“Just going back to the gym, getting back around basketball, seeing the kids come in and realizing this is a game that I love," he said, explaining what turned things around. “I can’t be out here drinking every day or show up around them with alcohol on my breath or it coming out of my pores. So, I had to start getting better.”
It worked. Getting back on the basketball floor got Oden off the bathroom floor. Well done. Here’s hoping the center holds.