By the curse of the body is his blessing, Greg Oden returned to Ohio State

This is a story from ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue 2017, on newsstands on July 7. Subscribe today!

GREG ODEN HAS a recurring dream. He’s playing defense for the Trail Blazers. He blocks a shot and passes to the outlet and sprints downcourt, light and fast and strong. He’s three years removed from his last NBA appearance now, trying to build a new life out of the lows of his last one, but in the dream he can still play. He can still run. He glides to the paint, catches a return pass and dunks. Coast-to-coast. The crowd explodes. He feels a sweet rush of adrenaline. Fans love him, and he loves himself — all joy and no shame.

The Heat signed Oden in 2013, but he played sparingly that season, and the team let him walk.

The Heat signed Oden in 2013, but he played sparingly that season, and the team let him walk.

ODEN IS IN the lobby of the academic support center on the Ohio State campus on a late-May morning, registering for classes to finish the degree he started a decade ago. He lived in a dorm a block away at the time. He remembers returning to Columbus after a Final Four run ended in a national championship loss to Florida in 2007. Most assumed he would leave for the NBA, but he came back to go to class. “I never planned on leaving,” he says. Students waited for him outside his dorm. Cars stopped on the street to stare. It took him 45 minutes to walk one block. Oden called his coach, Thad Matta, and said, “I can’t get to class.” A few weeks later, Oden announced that he would leave for the draft, one of many decisions in his life that wasn’t really his to make. Now, 10 years, three major knee surgeries and a failed career later, Oden arrives at the academic support center unnoticed and unbothered, his burden no longer walking to this building but rather walking up it.
THREE FLIGHTS OF stairs. That’s what he’s looking at to reach his adviser’s office. At 29, Oden can’t jump like he used to — he can’t leap at all off his right leg — but he swallows half a flight of stairs in his first step. He gently grunts. His body is hurting and scarred, but he actually looks young. It used to be the opposite. In high school, the deep creases near his eyes led some to suspect he was older than his verified age. Even then, with a seemingly limitless future, he struggled under the pressure placed upon him by his body, by what it seemed capable of, by the way it dictated to him. He was going to play basketball. He was going to be a superstar. He was going to take care of his family. He was going to be a Hall of Famer.

The pressures grew when his body failed him. Over the course of a decade, he developed a dependence on painkillers and alcohol to sleep, and he was arrested on domestic violence charges. Oden is now a student again, with a fiancée and 9-month-old daughter, still processing being at the center of a mania and disappointment to which few American athletes can relate. He reaches the top of the first flight of stairs at the academic support center, breathing too hard for the distance, and says, “Dead lifts are catching up to me!”
THE DAY BEFORE registering for classes, Oden is in the weight room at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on campus, where he once played and now helps the basketball team as a student assistant coach. He places just two 45-pound weights on a bar — “I’ve got nothing to prove,” he jokes with a shrug — and deadlifts it, bending and straightening his fragile knees. In between sets, he describes himself as the “biggest bust in NBA history,” as if saying it out loud will give him some kind of dominion over the pain of it. Before the NBA, Oden never had a serious knee injury. Not at Sarah Scott Middle School in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he first worked hard at basketball. Not at Lawrence North in Indianapolis, where he won three consecutive championships and was a two-time Parade All-American. And not during his single season at Ohio State, where he was a first-team All-American.

Two lifts into another set, something is off.

“Coach!” Oden hollers, dropping the bar and easing himself to the ground until he lies flat on his back. Dave Richardson, Ohio State basketball’s longtime strength coach, runs out of his gym office. He crouches down and lifts Oden’s right leg, gently shaking his foot, then pulling hard as if he were tugging a rope, his face reddening, Oden wincing for almost a minute before they both feel a pop of relief.

Still sweating, Oden explains that when he was in sixth grade, he grew so volcanically — 6 inches in less than a year — that his right hip detached from its socket. After surgery to place two pins in the joint, Oden enjoyed swinging his gangly legs on crutches down the hallways at school. But though the procedure worked, it left his right leg 8 millimeters shorter than his left. He walked with a bit of a dip, leaving people to assume that he was strutting, acting hard. Over time, his body adjusted, but the hip required the occasional heavy tug when it jammed.

After Oden was drafted first overall by the Trail Blazers in 2007, one pick ahead of Kevin Durant, the team outfitted him with a special orthotic insert to even his legs. “Three weeks later, I’m in surgery,” he says. Oden can’t prove that the orthotic is the sole reason his body collapsed in the NBA. The wheels were in motion for his body to fall apart the moment he hit his first growth spurt on the way to 7 feet. Everything in his life since has been governed by it.

“And now I’m back here,” he says at the gym, “trying to figure it all out.”

The former NFL player was accused of murdering his mother; the family blamed the league

A former NFL player has been accused of murdering his mother, but the family of De’Von Hall believes the ex-safety wasn’t provided help to combat his mental illness which culminated with the gruesome death of a woman he once called “his rock.”

Hall, who had stints with the Vikings, Colts and Buccaneers in 2009, is being held on $1 million bail after an argument turned violent in April outside Los Angeles. The argument led Hall to stomp his mother unconscious, according to a Los Angeles Times feature that was published Thursday.

former-nfl-safety-devon-hall_ic40y3noo4ek1glvl0euz2qqf

A Utah State product, the now 29-year-old played just four games with the Colts, and had appearances on the Vikings, Panthers, and Bucs’ practice squads. His strange behavior worried his college and pro teammates, even leading the Bucs to part ways because they were afraid of how he’d react to the rookie skits.

In Carolina, Hall was cut after the team chaplain called his agent, concerned about Hall’s unusual behavior and soiled clothes. There were a number of other incidents outlined by the Times, including a strange story Hall would tell teammates about the time his allegedly was in a car accident where he hit his head and had to be put in a straitjacket.

Hall’s family blames the NFL.

“The NFL, in my opinion, should’ve done a better job in making sure they took care of this kid,” his uncle Tony Benson said, via the Times.

Long lines, hot prices at Eddie Lacy’s garage sale

Have you ever wanted to own previously-worn athleisure items that were sweated upon and laundered by a one-time Pro Bowler?

Well, residents of De Pere, Wisconsin, welcome to your halcyon days.

Former Packers running back Eddie Lacy is kicking off his much ballyhooed garage sale this weekend and if you thought the weather was hot in Northeastern Wisconsin, check out these prices. Lacy-worn hats and shirts are going for a cool $50 while Packers hoodies are going for $100.

Among the other items for sale: T-shirts and tanks for $5, including what seems to be a gold alligator print. PlayStation games were going for $10 apiece while brand new, in-box Under Armor cleats were going for $25. For the non-football fan, Lacy was also selling Tide, candy canes, Reynolds Wrap and Chunky Soup.

According to a grainy Facebook live broadcast from the yard sale, Lacy had a line stretching all the way down the block. A man named Gavin interviewed by the local news station showed up moments after Lacy posted the information on Twitter and the line out of Lacy’s driveway was still about 100 people deep when he arrived. Another woman drove in from Iowa.

My favorite part of the video is the collision between two very different, devoted worlds. The hardcore garage-sale people seem to care little for who owns the house or what sort of Packers merchandise is there, like the man hoisting Lacy’s nightstand and humping it down the driveway. The Packers fans, meanwhile, are waiting in amusement park lines with the hope of scoring some $2 socks.

The silver lining in all of this is that the money goes to a good cause. Lacy is donating proceeds to the Freedom House, a homeless shelter in nearby Green Bay. It reaffirms what many Packer fans waiting on the sidewalk said: Lacy was always good to the locals, and he will be missed.

If nothing else, $5 for a designer tank is one hell of a deal.