"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.
"In December it would be four years, so four minutes, that's enough for me," Oden said. "As long as I got out there and I walked off and I'm healthy, that's all that matters.
"I know the guys were happy for me," Oden added. "I definitely felt love. And I'm excited that they were there for me."
Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said Oden's face "lit up" when he told him he was going to put him in the game.
"We are just so pleased for him," Spoelstra said. "It was just great to see him do something he loves to do. It was taken away from him for four years. We just continue to make patient, steady progress forward from here."
James scored 27 points and Dwyane Wade added 25 for the Heat, who trailed after three quarters but opened the fourth with a 21-2 run.
Wade hit a 3 during the decisive surge, then stole the ball for a breakaway jam. Ray Allen did all his scoring with three straight 3s to make it 98-84.