NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For Greg Oden and his Miami Heat teammates, four minutes on an NBA court in a preseason game was cause for celebration.
"It's been a long time and I've been wanting to get out there," Oden said after his preseason debut in Miami's 108-95 victory at New Orleans on Wednesday night. "It was only a couple minutes, but it was what I needed, what I can handle right now and, you know, small baby steps."
Oden is attempting to come back from knee injuries that have plagued him since he was drafted first overall out of Ohio State in 2007. The last time he played in an NBA game was on Dec. 5, 2009, for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Not long after he came in against the Pelicans, he scored his only points of the night on a dunk, which was also his only shot. He also grabbed a pair of defensive rebounds.
"It was a very special moment," LeBron James said of Oden's appearance. "I have no idea what my feeling would be like, being away from the game for three years. It was like a proud moment, man. I was so excited for him when he got on the court and he checked in — and his first basket he gets a dunk. Can you write it any better? Obviously he's not where he wants to be, but the process is going great.
"I can just imagine how excited he was to get back out there," James continued. "I'm going to have to take a toast for him, man. I ain't no drinker, but I might have to take a shot for him. It was an absolutely great moment."
Miami is a team used to celebrating NBA championships after winning the past two. Oden was gratified to see how much it also meant to the Heat to see him show the first small sign of a successful return to the game he loves, and missed.