It’s hard to really know where to begin. Yesterday morning I was reading twitter as I was getting ready to go to work, and I saw what has now become Chris Broussard’s most infamous tweet.
At first I thought there was no way he had it right. Yes Broussard is one of the leading national basketball journalists, and yes I know his sources are super legit, and yes bringing out something like “Brandon Roy plans to retire,” then being wrong would be a huge blow to anybody’s credibility. But still, there was no way in my mind that it was true. I guess I was wrong.
I would never say that I know Brandon Roy. I have had the opportunity to talk to him as press a number of times, sometimes even one-on-one. He’s the definition of a straight shooter, so when he says he thinks he can play at a high level you are wise to believe him. The same is true when he decides he can no longer do it. And after a full day and change since it became clear that Brandon Roy’s playing days are over, that’s the thing that has stayed with me.
This isn’t going to be like last season when he wanted nothing more than to be a big part of a winning team. There isn’t going to be a heroic Playoff comeback, there isn’t going to be a comeback at all. It’s really over, and the finality of it all is what we’re all left with.
Day One of Portland’s training camp went just about as badly as anything can go, but it will get better. LaMarcus Aldridge will recover, he’s done it before, and that’s what really matters. The Blazers played without Brandon for big stretches last year. Greg Oden has been a factor in probably 65 games in his entire career. Not having those guys in 2011-12 will be business as usual.
There are a ton of guys absolutely killing the training camp coverage, so I won’t get into any of that stuff right now. What I do want to do is share a little bit of what Brandon Roy meant to me both as a player, and as a member of the Trail Blazers organization, probably the only team in all of professional sports of which I would ever call myself a real fan.
The First Time I Saw Brandon Play
One of my closest friends from college was born and raised in Seattle. He graduated in 2002, and during his time at O’Dea High School the local prep squads included players like Martell Webster, Aaron Brooks, Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart, Nate Robinson, Spencer Hawes, Marvin Williams, and of course Brandon Roy.
During our sophomore year of college my friend and I were at his house watching the University of Washington Huskies play on TV. When Brandon checked into the game my friend told me to pay extra close attention. He said of all the guys he’d watched playing high school basketball in Seattle that Brandon was by far the best.
I don’t remember much about the specifics of this game, but I do remember that it was immediately obvious that Brandon was the best player on either team. He could do whatever he wanted on the court, he could score at will, and best of all he did it in a slow style that never looked rushed or out of control.
I’m not a Husky fan, I wouldn’t want anybody to accuse me of that, and to be honest I’m not really even that interested in college basketball. But I ended up watching a lot of college basketball after watching Brandon for the first time. I have to admit, when UW entered the NCAA tournament as a number one seed in 2005 and failed to make the Final Four I was a bit disappointed.
The first year I lived in Portland was the last year that the Blazers made the Playoffs before the end of the Maurice Cheeks/Jail Blazers era, when they were still clinging to the longest active Playoff streak in professional sports.
My heart broke when the Blazers traded Rasheed Wallace, and getting free tickets to games only did so much to make up for the fact that the Blazers were no longer the team I’d grown up watching. I’ll say this now so nobody gets confused. I didn’t care at all about what guys like Rasheed or Damon Stoudamire did off the court or in their free time. I wanted to see good basketball. I wanted to see the Blazers win like they always had. Between 2002 and 2006 was the only time in my life I’ve had to justify being a Blazer fan to people in Portland. It was a tough run.
On Draft Night 2006 I was working as a valet at a hotel downtown. In the valet office ESPN radio was broadcasting the Draft. It wasn’t so long ago that Blazer fans won’t remember, but in case you’ve forgotten, Draft Night 2006 might have been one of the crowing achievements of the franchise. That night Portland held, drafted, or traded four of the first seven picks.
The end result of all the dealing was of course LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy. But working the Draft the way they did also was a statement that the team had decided to turn the corner. Listening to Blazers’ trades and deals unfold in real time I started to feel like the team might be finally coming out of the darkness. Busted drafts of the past were easily forgiven by front office wizardry during the present. Draft Night 2006 was something special for all Blazer fans.
During the 2008-09 season I had the privilege of working as an intern for the Blazers. As an intern I was responsible for game day content for the team’s official website, which meant that I got to be credentialed media for the first time. It also meant that I got a chance to be in the RG for nearly all of the home games that season.
It’s hard to choose what individual moment of that season was the most amazing. The buzzer beater against Houston on Opening Night notwithstanding—I wasn’t in the building that night, I watched the game in a bar and that was probably one of the best sports nights I’ve ever had—I would say that Brandon’s 52-point game was the highlight of that season for me.
That night he looked so smooth, and played with such confidence that it became clear just how good he could be. Look at his stat line from that night. Brandon scored 52 points on 27 field goal attempts. In his post game remarks coach Nate McMillan called in a quiet 52 points, and he wasn’t wrong. Remember too, leading up to that Phoenix game Brandon scored 30, 33, 38, and 29 in his previous four games.
2008-09 will definitely be remembered as the highlight of Brandon’s career. Breaking it down one step further, December 9th through the 18th of 2008 was the best stretch of his best season.
There are plenty more great memories of that season, for instance on the 24th of January Brandon had an un-godly 10 steals against the Washington Wizards. One thing that I’ll never forget is that Portland finished that year losing only five times in their final 20 games. Not only was it Brandon’s best season, it was as good as Blazer basketball has been since 2000.
All-Star Game Appearances
Brandon’s first All-Star Game is the one that really stands out in my memory, but both times he actually played—if you remember he was held out of the game in 2010—were career highlights.
Brandon’s selection in 2008 was somewhat of a shocker. There were a ton of very talented guards in the Western Conference that year. So many that Deron Williams didn’t make the West team in 2008, or the next year either.
Blazer fans knew that Brandon was a lock for the All-Star Game in 08, but he hadn’t quite yet hit the national consciousness. That all changed during the course of that game. Brandon put on a show, 18 points in 29 minutes (the most minutes played of anybody on the West). For large portions of the game the NBA’s biggest superstars differed to Brandon, giving him the ball and telling him to make plays. I maintain that should the West have won that game, Brandon would have been a safe bet for MVP.
The 2008 game wasn’t a fluke though. In 2009 Brandon was once again a marquee performer in the All-Star Game. This time he led all players in minutes played, and only missed a single field goal attempt. This second All-Star performance cemented Brandon’s place as one of the best players in the West, and showed that not only could he hang on the court with guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant, but that he was the kind of player that should be an All-Star every year.
The one we’ll all remember is Game 4 of last season’s first round series. It’s the one we should remember. Not only was it probably one of the top moments in franchise history—basically the only game that a sane person could say was better was Game 6 of the Finals in 1977—it may very well have been one of the greatest events in professional sports.
Forget all of the back-story, the complaining after Game 2, the double knee surgery, everything. If Brandon had been healthy and playing well, that fourth quarter would still have been historic and amazing. Seeing it live, and hearing the sound in the RG after Brandon hit the three that led to the four-point play that tied the game, was definitely the best sports-related experience I’ve ever had.
Then there’s Game 4 from the Phoenix series the year before. It didn’t have the individual insane moments that the Dallas game had, but seeing Brandon pre-game, feeling the energy in the Rose Garden, and then hearing the ovation when he first checked in are up there too in my personal favorite Blazer memories.
But those two games aside, my top Brandon Roy Playoff moment came in the first round in 2009 against the Houston Rockets. I’ve already spoken about how the 08-09 season ended, but to reiterate, Portland couldn’t be beat at home. Fifty-four wins gave Portland the home court in their first round series. They were in as good a spot as they could get. We all remembered what happened next.
The collective low we all experienced in Game 1 nullified all the high points in the Rose Garden in 08-09. In one game the Blazers blew home court, and pretty much lost the series. What I remember is Brandon’s response. He took it personally. He didn’t like getting beat ever. He hated losing in the Rose Garden. And getting embarrassed in his first Playoff game was something he wasn’t going to take lightly.
The next night Brandon came out determined. His 42 points that night tied him with Clyde Drexler for the second-most by a Trail Blazer in the Playoffs. The damage had already been done, but it was very clear in Game 2 that Brandon had no interest in going out without a fight. One deep three from Steve Blake down in Houston goes in, and Portland would have been into the second round.
Where Do We Go From Here?
There isn’t really a good way to say goodbye to Brandon Roy. On Friday NBA superstars and regulars from around the country chimed in on the fact that one of the best had chosen to call it a day way before anybody thought he would. Local pundits did the right thing, penning heartfelt tributes to a guy that for the most part they loved but wasn’t immune to some of the downsides of being the face of the only game in town. It’s hard to think of a more fitting way to say farewell then that.
I have no doubt the city of Portland and the Blazer fan base will get over losing Brandon. To be honest, this day was coming, we just didn’t know when or how. The Blazers have a lot of young guys on their roster that will now have the chance to step up to try and fill the hole Brandon leaves behind. They won’t be able to do it individually, but this kind of thing might galvanize the team in a way that amnesty or an injured Brandon probably wouldn’t have.
For Brandon, clearly he’s decided his next step. He probably isn’t gone from basketball forever. Maybe he’ll get into coaching, maybe he’ll get in front of the camera. He has the type of personality that might be suited for a commentator’s role.
Beyond what the remaining Blazers have to take care of on the court, the team now has the somewhat daunting task of putting together a fitting tribute to Brandon, and deciding how long they should wait before retiring number 7.
Under regular circumstances the jersey retirement part of the Brandon tribute could probably wait. These are not usual circumstances. In my opinion if the team waits for the second home game of 2011-12, they’ve waited one game too long. If anybody deserves to have his jersey retired within a month of actually retiring, I think it’s Brandon.
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