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Greg Oden’s Redemption Song

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Greg Oden took another step forward in his comeback this season with a quality start against his former team, the Portland Trail Blazers.

It's a word tossed around haphazardly this season, particularly in describing Greg Oden's four-year journey from finished-in-the-NBA to starter-with-the-league-champs.

Redemption: An act of deliverance or salvation.

And while I'll stop short of attributing any sort of religious symbolism to Oden's amazing comeback, you do have to marvel at how much he has contributed this season, how much he has grown. Some argue it's not enough. But for Oden, only one thing matters:

"I'm just happy to be playing out there against anybody."

Before anyone starts jumping to conclusions and labeling Oden selfish, the words must be put in context, as they were when provided to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh prior to the Miami Heat playing Greg's former team, the Portland Trail Blazers.

When asked if the Blazers game would have any special significance, Oden answered, "Every game I play is basically a circled date. I'm not trying to look at any team just because I used to play for them. It's a game we need to win. It's just about this team and us getting a win right now."

It was even more encouraging, then, when Oden started against Portland and responded with a 15-minute outing (his longest of the season so far), and picked up 4 points, 3 rebounds, a block and a steal.

"There have been some ups and downs, but I'm here now."

That sounds like a man who has, after seven years of struggle and unmet expectations, finally put things into a perspective that was once as unlikely as resuming his playing career. His most difficult battles with depression and alcoholism - if not the life-long war - are seemingly over and he can focus on simply improving as a teammate and basketball player.

"I'm playing," Oden said. "That's all that matters."

When one hears the word "redemption," it's easy to associate it with the classic Bob Marley tune, "Redemption Song." Again, comparisons to basketball seem inappropriate, considering the song's themes range from Jamaica's tragic history with slavery to fear of nuclear war. But the song was written in 1979 by Marley at a time when, according to his wife Rita, he had been diagnosed with the cancer that would claim his life.

Facing your mortality, as Marley did, often leads to a unique perspective and, in this case, musical greatness. For Oden, he gained a new outlook when his basketball life was pronounced dead at the age of 24.

A comparison may be a stretch and yet still fitting as when Marley sings,

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our mind.

Hasn't Oden become a player liberated from the lofty demands of a #1 NBA draft pick? He's finally free of comparisons to Hall-of-Fame centers and historically-great big men and able to contribute to winning. As part of a team.

'Cause none of them can stop the time.

No, Oden can't stop time, but learning to embrace it, all of it and especially the "ups and downs," can lead to the kind of redemption that Marley sang of and that Oden plays for.

Won't you help to sing,
These songs of freedom?

An act of salvation. Maybe, on a personal level for Oden, to salvage his basketball career.

But, as a member of the Miami Heat, he's also been given the opportunity to help save their quest for an historic third-straight championship.

All I ever had, Redemption songs:
These songs of freedom,
Songs of freedom.