Greg Oden is recovering from serious knee surgery, and Josh McRoberts is fighting for playing time. But that hasn’t stopped either of these NBA newbies from living it up as great friends in Portland. Teammates on the Blazers, one of the hottest up-and-coming NBA teams, Greg and Josh are relying on their strong bond to help them make the sometimes perilous transition to the pros. And their friendship, which formed back in Indy when they played AAU ball together, is stronger than ever, as they have fun with their team and spend countless hours together at their homes, which are just down the street from each other. When we sat down with them at Josh’s house, the jokes and laughs came early and often. This is the good life.
STACK: How beneficial are strong bonds with teammates?
Oden: [They] make you much more confident out on the floor. You have a good feel for each other, because you’re more comfortable playing alongside someone when they’re your friend.
McRoberts: It’s always good to be friends with your teammates and know a lot about them. It helps to spend time with them away from the atmosphere of practice, games or the locker room. [Strong bonds] give you more confidence, because you know you can count on that person a little more.
STACK: Since you joined the Blazers, have there been any organized team-bonding events?
Oden: We all came in a month before the season and started practicing and working out together. That definitely helped us get closer and bond.
McRoberts: Every Thursday we go bowling [laughs]. Naw, I’m just kidding. We don’t do anything like that.
STACK: Since you’re both fresh to the league, has your friendship helped you adjust to NBA life?
Oden: It’s really helped me get used to it, [because] I have a guy whose house I can go to and just chill. I can’t go out with my older teammates because I’m too young. [Josh] and I knew each other from back when we were younger, so we already had a bond. We both grew up in Indianapolis and played on the same AAU team in high school.
McRoberts: We can see what each other is doing and help each other out. Other [rookies] who are in a city by themselves don’t have that. It’s different to have one of your best friends going through the same things in the same city.
STACK: How has the NBA transition gone so far for you?
Oden: The transition of being on my own in a different city has been okay. I can’t really do a lot because I’m too young, but it’s cool to be able to chill at my house and go out to dinner every now and then. I haven’t been doing anything crazy.
McRoberts: It’s been good. I’ve never been on the West Coast, [specifically] the Pacific Northwest, for an extended period of time, so it’s something new and exciting. I’ve enjoyed it so far.
STACK: What do you do to unwind off the court?
Oden: To relax and get my mind off of basketball, I sleep. That’s about it. I sleep and I eat.
McRoberts: [Laughs] I do those things, but I also like to hang out with my friends who live here, or hang out with Greg and his friends. We usually just take it easy and watch a movie or something like that.
STACK: Give us a peer assessment of each other, as athletes and as people.
Oden: As a basketball player, Josh is alright [laughs]. No, he’s very good. He’s versatile on the court; he can do a lot of things I wish I could. He can dribble, shoot, pass; then he can get down low and bang with you. He can do it all. But he’s the meanest person alive; I’m not going to lie to you [laughs]. No, he’s a good man—very straightforward. He’s going to tell you the truth no matter what.
McRoberts: What can I say that everyone doesn’t already know? He’s a great basketball player, and I truly believe he can be one of the best ever to play the game. There’s really nothing he can’t do. He’s a funny guy and great to hang out with. As much as you might think he’d be a superstar kind of guy, I don’t really think he’s realized that he has that status. He’s always been the same guy, [which] speaks a lot about a person who’s had all this success and still remains humble.
STACK: Have you guys ever played 1-on-1?
Oden: Have we? I don’t know.
McRoberts: I don’t think so.
STACK: Any predictions if you did?
Oden: I don’t care [laughs].
McRoberts: I think we might have played 1-on-1-on-1 in a workout once, but I don’t remember how it went.
Oden: Oh yeah, with Lamarcus [Aldridge]. It was kind of weird, though [laughs].
STACK: What’s it like to be part of a young, talented team with tons of potential?
Oden: It’s awesome, because we know that we’re all going to mature and have a chance to be really good—just to have the opportunity to be part of it and be here from the beginning.
McRoberts: Hopefully, we can start to build something special here in Portland. To be here from the start and see it through until the end is one of my goals here.
STACK: What goals or expectations do you have for the team this year?
Oden: The main goal is always winning the NBA Championship. This year, we want to make the playoffs at least. You always want to set your goals high, but you never know what’s going to happen.
McRoberts: I agree. A big goal for us would be to make the playoffs this year. We want to continue to improve and mature. Most of our best players are in their second [NBA] season or less, so we are going to have some ups and downs.
STACK: Personal goals?
Oden: I want to learn to walk good in the next couple months; I’m still limping a little bit [laughs]. No really, I just want to get my knee back and get healthy so I can get back to playing without any injuries. I also want to get a little stronger.
McRoberts: I’m in a different position than Greg, because I can walk decent. The biggest things for me are improving shooting the basketball and getting stronger in the weight room. It just comes down to hard work, and those things will take care of themselves.
STACK: What kind of athletes were you when you were younger? When did the NBA dream take over?
Oden: I played football in sixth and seventh grade. I was about 6’6” in sixth grade and about 6’7” in seventh grade. I was a beast; I’m not going to lie. I led the team in tackles at defensive end, but I couldn’t catch anything to save my life. In sixth grade, I had one touchdown, and I had about 12 in seventh grade. I didn’t always dream about being an NBA player; basketball was something that I did, and then I fell in love with it. In high school, I realized I wanted to do it for a living and be out there with all the elite players.
McRoberts: I played pretty much everything when I was younger. [And] I knew that I wanted to be in either the NFL or NBA, [but] I didn’t know which one was my favorite sport yet. Then I decided I liked basketball more.
STACK: Were there obstacles you had to overcome to be able to live out that NBA dream?
Oden: Yeah, I don’t read good [laughs]. No, I don’t think I had many. When I first started playing, I couldn’t hit a lay-up . . . but everything else was smooth and laid out for me. I just had to take it.
McRoberts: Everybody who gets to this point has had some obstacles, except for Greg I guess [laughs]. Mine are probably a lot like everybody else’s. I can’t think of one that was harder than the rest.
STACK: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Oden: Getting drafted number one and knowing that I could take care of my mom, my brother and my grandmother for the rest of their lives. Walking up on that stage was good, but I was nervous that I was going to trip because my shoes were a little too big. Everything else was all good, [especially] shaking Mr. Stern’s hand.
McRoberts: Probably just being at the point where I am right now. Hopefully, I’ll have a lot bigger things to come.