Sunday, December 20, 2009

The cause of Greg Oden's demise?

I've spent the last few years trying to convince everyone I know that Greg Oden and Abraham Lincoln are, in fact, the same person. I've spent countless hours putting Microsoft Paint top hats on pictures of Oden in order to visually stimulate consensus. I've taken to outwardly calling him "Greg Lincoln" when he's on TV or the subject of an article.

It is my Moby Dick. My Curse of TutankOden.

Why do I do it? What is this hold that Greg Oden has over me?

It comes down to a theory. It's not a theory of Presidential reincarnation, no, it's a theory of genetic duality. Ever since his first (and only) year at Ohio State University, I have been obsessed with the idea that Greg Oden has Marfan Syndrome, a condition the former United States President is rumored to also have suffered.

That's right.

I think Greg Oden and Abraham Lincoln share the incurable connective tissue condition Marfan Syndrome, and I think it's the reason behind Oden's injury-plagued career.

Let me preface this entire article with a disclaimer: In no way am I trying to belittle or make fun of Marfan Syndrome or people with the condition. This is simply a diagnostic attempt to explain the unique injuries and performance of an iconic basketball player. I have studied the disorder and sympathize with anyone suffering from the rare condition. Many successful people have had Marfan Syndrome and have led tremendously-successful careers. The real question of this article comes down to whether or not Greg Oden will end up being one of these people. The end.

In 2004, I happened to study Marfan Syndrome in a biology class at Loyola University Chicago after basically selecting it out of a "disease hat" for a project (metaphorically speaking). Three years later, Greg Oden was selected first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Draft and the gears of my curious mind started spinning. Since being drafted, Oden has played a total of 82 games and had each season cut short by injury:

2007) Microfracture surgery
2008) Foot injury, fractured patella
2009) Fractured patella

Marfan Syndrome is an incurable condition with very distinct characteristics. Abraham Lincoln had all of these characteristics in spades, as does Greg Oden. In Lincoln's case, the debate rages on in the world of "political-science" about his connection to the syndrome. Lincoln's medical history in general is so widely discussed that there have been symposiums held to postulate about the President's diseases, medical conditions, and, of course, whether or not he suffered from constipation.

In Oden's case, just three years into his career, the volume and severity of his injuries are cause for major concern in Portland. Haunted by the ghost of Sam Bowie, many people have asked the question WHY? Why does he keep getting injured? Why is he having so many problems? Why does he look like Abraham Lincoln? (The last one is my question.)

The answer is Marfan Syndrome.

At least 1 in every 5,000 people in America have the disorder. There are roughly 500 professional basketball players in the NBA currently. Now, assuming that no other NBA players have ever had Marfan Syndrome (unlikely!), it means that, mathematically, there would be at least ONE player in the history of the league to have had the condition.

500 players * 63 years of NBA basketball / 5 years per avg. career = 6,300 players

That player?

Greg Oden.

While symptoms affect people with Marfan Syndrome different ways, there are some core body systems affected by the disorder: Skeleton, eyes, heart and blood vessels, nervous system, skin, and lungs.

Oden's injuries have all been related to a fragile skeleton, most-likely associated with the Marfan Syndrome characteristic of an abnormally-tall, loosely-jointed skeleton. People with the disorder usually have a long, narrow face, disproportionately-long fingers and toes, and can suffer from scoliosis, a protruding or indented sternum, and flat feet (which could explain his foot injury in 2008). The bones themselves are under increased stress due to weak bonds from the connective tissues and the sheer mass of a larger skeleton. The knee is a labyrinth of connectivity, and Greg Oden's knee is basically a cable modem blinking red right now.

Lens detachment is another symptom of Marfan Syndrome, which leads to one eye usually appearing lower than another.

Heart and blood vessel issues are common in people with Marfan Syndrome, with the most-severe ailments coming in the form of aortic dilation (which increases the chance of the aorta to tear), with the least-severe symptoms showing themselves as shortness of breath and fatigue. As someone who has watched a lot of basketball and a lot of Greg Oden's games in the basketball fallout-shelter called Seattle, Oden clearly has conditioning and fatigue issues that trainers have attempted to solve at various points in Oden's short career by having him lose weight. This lack of conditioning may also be associated with lung problems wherein the minuscule, elastic air sacs in the lung are less elastic.

Portland Trail Blazers fans, you've watched the games too. I'm onto something.

Finally, people with Marfan Syndrome usually develop stretch marks and folds in their skin without any related weight change. While Abraham Lincoln's long, gangly appearance is often the basis for his posthumous diagnosis, he also had many skin characteristics of Marfan Syndrome. Greg Oden's appearance has been similarly-discussed for the past four years, with some sports writers questioning whether or not he really was born in 1988.

Oden's age isn't the issue, it's the missing diagnosis that explains his injury-riddled basketball career. Maybe now, once and for all, I can come to peace with my white whale.

And come on, look at that Abe Lincoln beard ... history knows.


  1. Interesting theory. However, I would think that it would have occurred to someone by now to screen him, if they don't screen all the players with echocardiograms to start with. No way would the NBA let someone with Marfan play; it's too much of a liability.

    Lens dislocation (the retinas detach, the lens dislocate) doesn't change the eye in the way that Oden's is. It changes the eye internally, not externally. Plus, when a lens dislocates, it causes vision problems. If he did have a dislocated lens or a detached retina he would notice.

    Also, although we are prone to injury, it's not a connective tissue problem necessarily that would cause breaks. We're much more prone to sprains and muscle tears than breaks, unless he has osteoperosis, which is possible, as that does occur in Marfs in a higher rate, but I also don't know if his types of injuries are so out of line with typical NBA players. It would seem like with all the running and jumping they do that fractures would be common place. (But, I don't follow basketball that much so this is a guess.)

  2. If that is the case, Oden must be the unluckiest NBA player! Well, your conspiracy theory is interesting, but I think it is his inability to stay healthy day in and day out. Being an athlete would require you to be fit everyday because your body is the key to your career. The only good thing about him now is that the pressure has eased off him somehow.