Oden had not suited up since Dec. 5, 2009, against the Houston Rockets, when he injured his left knee in the first quarter. In total, it had been 1,502 days since Oden last played in a game.
But that changed Wednesday night when Oden came off the bench against the Washington Wizards. Wearing No. 20 and with both knees heavily wrapped, Oden entered with 6:03 remaining in the first half and made an immediate impact: He had an offensive rebound, a dunk and a foul in his first 30 seconds.
By halftime, Oden had two dunks, two free throws and a pair of rebounds. The Heat were getting blown out when he stepped on the floor, but he helped trim a 34-point deficit to 21 at halftime.
Oden started the second half -- he said it was to keep him from getting stiff -- and played four more minutes before sitting for good. His final line: eight minutes, six points, two rebounds, 2 for 3 from the field and 2 for 2 from the free throw line in a 114-97 loss.
"Earlier today, coach said I could dress," Oden said after the game. "I didn't know if I was going to play or not, but I got out there and I did, and I'm happy I got the chance.
"It felt good, just being able to be back out on the court. Honestly, the big thing is, to be able to have now that connection now with my teammates. I've been here, I've been around, but when you're not playing, sometimes deep down you don't really feel part of the team as much. I'm happy I can do that."
Part of his eight minutes of action included a dunk off a LeBron James pass.
"I had no idea he was playing, actually, until he was getting dressed and I saw he had his knee brace on," James said. "I was like, 'Oh, you active?' And he was like, 'Yeah,' so I was very excited. ... Obviously in a short amount of minutes tonight he was pretty good for us."
The activation of Oden came on the heels of a three-team trade in which the Heat sent reserve center Joel Anthony, a lottery-protected 2014 first-round pick and a future second-rounder to the Boston Celtics. In the deal, the Heat received backup guard Toney Douglas from the Golden State Warriors, who acquired guards Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks from the Celtics.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said there was "no real relation" between the Anthony trade and Oden's status.
Heat president Pat Riley, meanwhile, gave a rare interview before Wednesday's game and said Oden was "in uniform." Riley then backtracked and said it was up to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who indicated that a decision hadn't yet been made on Oden's playing status.
Eventually, the Heat decided to give it a go.
"He's been working very hard," Riley said. "He's really progressed."
Oden was happy to be back but disappointed with the outcome.
"Very good, very good," he said of his return. "But you know, I wish we could have won. That's the most important thing."
Oden was seen in the locker room pregame with an ice pack on his left knee before going through a pregame workout.
"He's been working very diligently," Spoelstra said. "He's getting stronger, getting healthier. He's getting his core right, everything without skipping steps. We're very patient with it. He's been great about it."
Oden signed a one-year contract with the Heat this offseason. He has undergone multiple operations over the past four years on both knees, including three microfracture surgeries. In March 2012, he was waived by the Portland Trail Blazers, the team that selected him No. 1 overall in the 2007 draft.
Oden said he's fine with the Heat practicing patience with the center.
"It's a plan to keep me playing," he said. "That's the thing. I don't want to just get out there and then get injured again. My thing is to make sure I can go out there and keep playing games. That's the plan, and we're sticking to it."
As for free agent Andrew Bynum, Riley commented on the speculation that the Heat might be a landing spot for the center, who was waived by the Chicago Bulls recently.
"It's all speculation," Riley said. "That's all it is. There will be a tremendous amount of research (on free agents). There's nothing going at all. There's nothing happening at all with that situation."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.