- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

The Trail Blazers are coming to terms with yet another fallen Goliath, this one named Greg Oden.

The 19-year-old center from Ohio State is expected to miss his rookie season in the NBA after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee last week.

The development goes with the 37-year-old franchise.

The Trail Blazers always have had a star-crossed history with big men, dating to 1972, when they used the No. 1 overall pick in the draft to select LaRue Martin, a reed-like center who lasted only four seasons in the NBA.

Martin was selected ahead of Bob McAdoo and Julius Erving, both of whom fashioned Hall of Fame careers.

No promising center haunted the Trail Blazers more than Bill Walton, a gifted player who had the misfortune to have had feet seemingly made out of glass.

Walton never appeared in more than 65 games in his five seasons with the Trail Blazers, and it was his 65-game season in 1977 that resulted in the franchise claiming its only NBA championship.

Walton would be finished in Portland, Ore., after two more injury-plagued seasons and never would be the dominating center he showed himself to be, however fleetingly, in the 1977 season.

The prospect of what the Trail Blazers might have been with a healthy Walton is one the franchise rued until 1984, perhaps the most noteworthy NBA Draft because of the top three selections.

The Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwon with the No. 1 pick overall, the Trail Blazers selected Sam Bowie and the Bulls chose Michael Jordan.

Bowie being taken ahead of Jordan looks considerably worse today than it did then.

In fact, the Trail Blazers made what was a fairly traditional decision at the time in opting for 7-foot-1 center instead of a 6-6 guard.

The Trail Blazers were guided by the axiom that big men win championships, stemming from the days of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in the ‘50s and ‘60s to Willis Reed and Dave Cowens in the ‘70s.

This was the decade preceding Jordan’s six championships in Chicago with limited centers like Bill Cartwright, Luc Longley, Will Perdue and Bill Wennington.

This was the decade of Larry Bird’s Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Lakers, with each team anchored by a formidable center, Robert Parish in Boston and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles.

The Trail Blazers had the makings of a fairly able team going into the 1985 season, with Kiki Vandeweghe, Mychal Thompson, Jim Paxson and Clyde Drexler.

The Trail Blazers figured — and it is easy to comprehend even now — they needed a big man to complement the cast and not another ball-hungry guard who would take shots away from Vandeweghe and Drexler.

What they failed to measure was Bowie’s leg problems, which surfaced while he was at Kentucky.

These leg problems never went away after Bowie joined the Trail Blazers. After appearing in 76 games as a rookie, he played in only 63 games the next four seasons and underwent five surgeries.

The decision of the Trail Blazers to select Bowie ahead of Jordan remains one of the most criticized decisions in the history of the NBA Draft, even if the criticism is articulated only through the beneficial lens of hindsight.

The Trail Blazers are reliving that history now, with Oden on the shelf after they passed on Kevin Durant in the draft.

Durant was an extraordinary perimeter scorer at Texas, which invites the Bowie-Jordan comparison.

Yet it is anyone’s guess how the Oden-Durant decision will turn out.

Two years after tabbing Bowie in the draft, the Trail Blazers selected Arvydas Sabonis, who was developing into one of the best centers in the world then.

By the time Sabonis joined the Trail Blazers nine years later, he was a fraction of his former self.

Oden going down follows in the dark spirit that envelops the center position of the Trail Blazers.

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