Sometime soon, possibly this afternoon, Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy will announce his retirement from the NBA due to the degenerative condition of his knees. I understood this was a possibility eventually, and probably should have been tipped off by the fact that Roy was unable to play in a pair of charity games during the lockout, but recent reports from Roy’s workouts in Seattle with other NBA players had been positive. If the Blazers knew what was coming, Nate McMillan‘s announcement earlier this week that Roy would enter training camp as his starting two-guard was one heck of a smokescreen.
This is a bittersweet day, certainly. When the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, I was consoled about the loss of my favorite team (and employer) by two facts. The Rose Garden is less than three hours down I-5 from Seattle, allowing me to attend NBA games in Portland on a regular basis, and also to see my all-time favorite player from my alma mater. When Roy was at the University of Washington, leading a program that was moribund when he arrived along with Bobby Jones, Nate Robinson and Tre Simmons to three NCAA tournament appearances during his four-year career, I was certain he would be a good NBA player. I never really imagined he would win Rookie of the Year and make the All-Star team in his second season.
By the time I got to Portland, Roy’s career was in full ascent. During the second game I attended on a Prospectus credential, Roy made a 30-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Houston Rockets in overtime on national television. All too often over the last three seasons, I was there to enjoy Roy’s heroics first-hand. The last two years, they mostly concerned his triumphant return from injury. During the 2010 playoffs, Roy received one of the loudest ovations I’ve ever heard when he went to the scorer’s table to check in after unexpectedly returning far ahead of schedule from arthroscopic knee surgery. Last spring brought one of the most unforgettable games I’ve ever attended, Roy’s turn-back-the-clock fourth quarter that led a miraculous 23-point comeback against the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. As that game wound down, I had chills thanks to how Roy played and how the Rose Garden responded. That day was made all the more special when ESPN.com asked me after the game to write the lead story chronicling the twin comebacks (by the team and by Roy) to lead their Daily Dime coverage.
Those memories are all we have now of Brandon Roy the basketball player, and that’s not the worst thing possible. He struggled to deal with finding his body unable to do the same things that had once come like second nature. Earlier in the week of Roy’s triumphant game against the Mavericks, he briefly turned heel by complaining about his playing time in Game Two of the series with the Mavericks. There were bound to be more awkward moments like that as Roy adjusted to a reduced role and McMillan tried to balance his desire to play with a crowded wing rotation.
Roy’s career was painfully brief. He just turned 27 in July, putting him at an age where he should have been peaking as a player. There are no guarantees in basketball, however, and Roy packed a full career’s worth of highlights into five NBA seasons. I wish there were more to come, but I’m also thankful to have had the opportunity to see Roy come through as many times as I did.
After all, when I was first introduced to Roy, it was as the younger brother of a standout Garfield High School senior named Ed Roy. Ed was nearly as talented as Brandon and was a dominant player in high school, but academics kept him from taking his career any further. Brandon came all too close to a similar fate. Ineligible until he could get a qualifying SAT score, he spent the first semester of what would be his freshman year at UW working at a shipping-container plant.
Roy might have ended up one of those “what if?” tales that get whispered in local basketball circles. Instead, through hard work and perseverance, he was able to showcase his skills and his character on a global stage. That’s why, as tough as today might be for Roy’s fans, it should also be a chance to remember everything he did accomplish before his knees gave out.