There was certainly a basketball game at the Rose Garden in Portland on Saturday. But that wasn’t why anybody was in the building.
The Blazers are four games under .500 and need a miracle to make the playoffs, a miracle they won’t get because now is the time to start working on the second level of their roster in preparation for the seasons to come in which they likely won’t be on the outside of the post season picture.
The Minnesota Timberwolves came into 2012-13 as one of the young up and coming teams to watch. Fifty-six games later, and the Wolves have been taken down piece by piece through multiple injuries that left them with only nine healthy players for Saturday night. Two of those players (one of them a starter) came to Minny on ten-day contracts in January.
All that is to say, Saturday’s game featured two bottom half teams, had nothing on the line, and the score itself (109-94 in favor of the Blazers) functioned only as a way to ensure that a couple thousand free Chalupas found their way into the hands and bellies of the Portland faithful.
But like I said, Saturday’s game wasn’t about the score, it wasn’t about who won, it wasn’t even about the game. It was about Brandon Roy.
Saturday started with a press conference in the press entry/loading dock area in the bowels of the Rose Garden. It was the first time Brandon addressed the local media since his retirement before the start of the 2010-11 season. Brandon, dressed in Husky purple and looking more fit than he did when he appeared out of nowhere to help Jamal Crawford celebrate his birthday in Portland last season, took questions from a horde of journalists.
“I’m not really big on doing press conferences or talking to the media, I’m kind of private and I think as least I can say is better. That’s why I lay back and not say much sometimes,” Brandon told the gathering while expounding on his personal feelings about his career (“If I never play another game, I’ll still be completely happy with my career,”), on when he finally came to terms with how things have gone for him over the last few seasons (“When I was at training camp, sitting at the training table, talking about how I’m back in the mix of things with the team again. It just felt good, it just felt right,”), and on Damian Lillard (“He’s a good player. He’s just tough on the court and he makes big shots, timely shots. He’s going to be a special player in this league.”).
Roy wasn’t on the court or on the bench prior to tip off, but he sauntered out of the visitor’s tunnel early in the first quarter, taking the final seat on Minnesota’s bench. A few fans noticed Brandon come out, but he would get more. The local game ops team put Brandon up on the JumboTron during the game’s first timeout, and for a solid minute, the entire Rose Garden was on its feet saluting one of the greatest Blazers of all time.
The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick pointed out that the ovation for Brandon was more polite than raucous, writing that very likely Portlanders still appreciate who Brandon was and what he did but are no longer losing sleep over the decimation of his career, thanks in no small part to the rapid and unexpected super-star like emergence of Damian Lillard.
It’s certainly a very neat way to wrap up the story of Brandon Roy, by pegging its end to Damian Lillard’s beginning, the only story coming out of Portland at the moment that has any kind of national attention behind it. I don’t disagree that Blazer fans are very appreciative of Damian Lillard, and that there are elements of his game and his off-court demeanor that are Brandon Roy-esque, and that the combination of those things have helped to erase the pain that lingers from how Brandon left Portland and the NBA.
I do think, though, that saying the Rose Garden didn’t explode for Brandon Roy on a random Saturday night because it’s too busy exploding every other night for Damian Lillard is a bit of an over simplification. There is a place in the heart of every Blazer fan specifically for Brandon Roy. He did so many amazing things in such a short period of time that it’s hard to imagine any one player being more important to this franchise in at least the last 10 years.
But there’s the issue of time. I think Brandon Roy simply waited too long to come back. If he wanted to get the kind of ovation that would bring the house down, the kind of ovation he’ll get at some date in the distant future when the number seven is lifted into the rafters of the RG, he should have been in the seats on opening night of the 2010-11 season.
But that wasn’t what Brandon wanted. For the day he retired, there is no doubt in my mind he was thinking about how to get back into the NBA. Because of that, he didn’t want to be put on display as an ex professional basketball player. Because of that he decided to make a comeback that has gone and will go nowhere. And because of that the fans here, regardless of how much the love him, have just kind of forgotten about him. Or if not forgotten about him (they did all come out just to see him after all) are ready to appreciate him for what he did, but not ready to deify him for who he was.
That elevation to the Blazers’ pantheon (both literally and figuratively) comes later.
Of course, if Brandon had been healthy and playing well, he’s reception would have been much different. I imagine that a starting line-up announcement that featured Brandon Roy would have come with a 30-minute standing ovation. Or if Brandon had been coming off the bench, the game would have had to been stopped the first time he checked in. Those are things Blazer fans would have liked to see, because they liked nothing more (not Damian Lillard, not a crash dunk-and-flex from Meyers Leonard, not a triple-double from Nicolas Batum) than watching Brandon Roy play basketball to the best of his incredible abilities.
We didn’t get that chance Saturday, and we won’t get that chance every again. It’s a sad way to end the Brandon Roy story, but in a way it fits. We loved him for who he was and what he did, and we appreciate him for trying when we all know he probably shouldn’t. We just wish the circumstances could have been different.
Portland closes out their mini home stand on Monday against the Bobcats.
- Eric Maynor set a career high on Saturday night with 12 assists, tying him with Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard for a Blazer season high in the process. Maynor logged an impressive 31 minutes, by far his longest stretch as Blazer. I believe that Maynor is going to be a pretty nice piece.
- Meyers Leonard had a nice night too. Leonard scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Leonard played 21 minutes. His first night with more than 20 minutes of playing time since November.