I found a YouTube clip of you singing karaoke to ’N Sync’s “It’s Gonna Be Me” at a fundraiser for Oregon Mentors [a youth foundation that Oden helps sponsor]. It didn’t look like you needed much help with the lyrics.
Yeah, I knew most of the words. Let’s just say it’s a song that’s probably floating around on my iPod somewhere.
Another interesting thing about the clip is that you were wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt. Michael Jordan has taken a lot of heat over the years for refusing to be political—“Republicans buy shoes too,” was his infamous quote. Is that something you worry about?
No. I think Obama’s a good guy, and I think that he could be a great leader for this country. That’s the guy I support, but it’s just a T-shirt. At least, that’s how I look at it.
So, it’s been a little over a year since the microfracture surgery on your right knee. What were you thinking before you went under?
They told me I had two options: It was either going to just be a scope and I would be out four to six weeks, or it was going to be something that was going to keep me out for the whole season. But nobody else seemed too worried about the surgery, so I figured it was no big deal. And then I woke up after the anesthesia wore off and all I remember is watching [Blazers general manager] Kevin Pritchard on TV saying, “Greg Oden will be out the entire season.” I was like, “What? When did we talk about this?”
You’ve got two giant bags of ice on your knees right now, so I’m assuming rehab is an ongoing process. How tough has it been?
It hasn’t been brutal, but the length of it has been frustrating. I remember thinking I was done when the season ended last year, but the doctors were like, “OK, you’re done with stage two.” And there’re four stages. I was like, “I’m ready to be out there now.”
Thus the whole hubbub in March when you got in trouble for playing in a pickup game in Tualatin before you were medically cleared by the team. You thought you were ready to play…
Well, I was, but people started tripping. People were like, “You got in trouble.” Huh? No, I played a pickup game. But Coach Nate [McMillan] sat me down and reminded me that I’m not an average Joe anymore. I can’t go out and do everything that I want to do. It’s a little unfair because I like to be a normal person, but we get paid a lot of money to play this game.
Do you think the time away from the court helped you at all?
A little bit. I think the year off gave me time to calm down and not worry so much about all the pressure. Last year I was jumpy and not relaxed. I’m ready to handle it better now.
Of course, this season there’s no pressure at all.
Yeah, right. We want to make the playoffs, but it’s going to be a lot of work. The Western Conference is really difficult. You’ve basically got to win 50 games just to get into the playoffs, but we’re gonna chip away and try and win more games than we did last year, and hopefully that will be enough.
What kind of expectations have you set for yourself?
I’m lucky because I’ve got a lot of good people around me on this team. They tell me, “Look, you gotta understand you’re a rookie. One day you’re going to go out there and get 20 points and 15 rebounds, and the next game you’re gonna get 6 and 3.” I’m going to work hard not to just get 6 and 3, but sometimes that’s what all rookies go through.
You hear lots of horror stories about athletes who end up blowing through all their money or not managing it wisely. How have you avoided that?
Me and my mom have a plan, and if you stick by the plan it’s a good thing. Basically I’ve put myself on a monthly budget, just enough to pay bills and have a little left over for me. In a couple of years, I’ve already got a couple million in the bank.
You made an appearance at the San Diego Comic Convention this summer to promote a basketball comic book. What was it like mingling with 125,000 geeks?
I saw one guy with this huge 60-pound sword just walking down the street in his costume. And then you had all these Star Wars fanatics—I even saw one entire family all dressed up as Stormtroopers. But I was bummed because afterward I found out that Kim Kardashian and Cameron Diaz were staying at my hotel and I had no idea.
What do you geek out about?
I’m a big movie guy. I enjoy going to the theater. The key to not getting spotted is to go in late or get there early. The other trick is to not sit up, but really scrunch down in your seat. Sometimes people try and wait by the door for me to come out, but I just jam out the little side exit by the screen. One time I was there and I saw B-Roy [teammate Brandon Roy] in the far corner. I was like, “Who’s that mummy?” He was all covered up and had his hood down over his face. I didn’t think he could see the movie.
So after a year of living in Portland, what’s been your most awkward fan interaction?
I was driving to a game one night last season, and there’s this carload of people behind me honking. I’ve got tinted windows, so I don’t know how they know it’s me. And they’re laying on their horn. I was like, “Is there something wrong with my wheels?” So I roll down my window to see what the problem is and they’re all staring at me and giving me the thumbs-up sign. And I’m on I-5! On the turns! I thought I was about to die.
What did you do?
I just kept driving. Those people were crazy.