Former Washington star Brandon Roy, forced to retire from the NBA because of his bad knees, created miracles on the court.
More than three hours before tipoff, Brandon Roy was on the floor at the Rose Garden, jab-stepping and lifting off the floor, launching laser-guided jumpers that swished one after the other.
Eight days after undergoing surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee, Roy was back on the floor, testing the knee, hoping he could return to the Portland Trail Blazers before their playoff series with Phoenix was finished.
“Just hoping to get a hard workout in,” Roy told me, as he took a break to gulp some water before returning to the floor, pounding a couple of hard dribbles and draining another jumper.
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This is my picture of Brandon Roy in the last couple of seasons of his tragically short NBA career.
Roy alone in the Rose Garden, arriving long before his teammates, doing everything he could to ignore the sharp pains in both knees, trying to fool himself into believing that everything was going to be fine.
Roy believing in miracles.
The more he worked that morning of April 24, 2010, the better Roy looked. And after he left the floor, he disappeared. He wasn’t at his locker. He wasn’t available to reporters.
“You believe in miracles?” assistant coach Dean Demopoulos asked me, nodding his head toward the training room 45 minutes before the game.
Minutes before the Blazers took the floor to play Phoenix in the fourth game of their Western Conference playoff series, trailing two games to one, former Sonic Hersey Hawkins, a Trail Blazers official, walked up to me and said, “I don’t believe it, but Brandon says he’s going to play.”
Brandon Roy, who is expected to announce his medical retirement at age 27, because of degenerative knees, always wanted to play.
These last couple of seasons, when his availability and his effectiveness dramatically were reduced, he still tried to get back on the floor, still attempted to play through piercing pain, still had moments when he made even the sharpest skeptics believe in miracles.
That day two seasons ago, Roy led the Blazers, Willis Reed-like, to a come-from-behind win over Phoenix. He played 26-plus minutes, including the final 15:22, scored 10 points and helped Portland even the series.
“It gave me chills,” coach Nate McMillan said of that game.
That’s what Roy did. From his days at Garfield High School, to his All-American season at Washington, to All-Star years with the Blazers, Roy gave us chills.
He played as if the spotlight always was on him. He was cool and smooth and clutch. He wasn’t the quickest player on the floor, but he had a knack, with that familiar crab dribble, of getting a shoulder past his defender and exploding to the rim.
He loved the game so much, and at Washington he returned too soon from a knee surgery and, as a result, he played in pain most of his NBA career.
But Roy always wanted to play. He was at the start of Washington’s hoop resurgence and he was doing the same thing in Portland.
From almost his first days in town, he became the face of the organization. He was the anti-Jail Blazer. Finally the city had someone it could embrace.
The Blazers added LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden and looked like the hottest young team in the game. You know how that story ended.
For more than 30 years, this has been a star-crossed franchise. From Bill Walton to Sam Bowie, Oden to Roy, it has been plagued by catastrophic injuries. Several times since its 1977 championship, it has gotten to the brink before falling short.
Sisyphus in shorts.
And there have been times in the past two years when Roy hasn’t handled his frustrations with his injuries well. He sometimes was aloof, which isn’t normal for him.
In the summer of 2009, he signed a five-year contract extension worth $82 million, but he couldn’t stay healthy, couldn’t stay on the floor and Blazers fans, used to seeing their superstars fall, lashed out at him on blogs and talk shows and in the Rose Garden.
Now I hope they understand. Now they should know how tortured Roy has been, knowing that the game was being taken from him.
The final game I saw him play might be my favorite of his.
Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, last April 23, against the soon-to-be NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
Three months earlier, Roy underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees. His knees were limiting his playing time. But now the Blazers trailed this must-win game by 23 points in the second half.
The Rose Garden was dead.
And for the last time in his hoop life, Roy found another miracle.
After scoring only two points in two games in Dallas, Roy scored 18 fourth-quarter points, made 8 of 10 shots and had a hand in 12 of the Blazers’ 15 fourth-quarter field goals. He hit the game winner with 39.2 second left as the Blazers tied the series 2-2.
For one last game, Brandon Roy played like Brandon Roy.
“It felt like me out there scoring,” reserve guard Armon Johnson said. “That’s how good it felt.”
When he was healthy, when he could turn the game into some self-expressive, improvisational art form, watching Brandon Roy could make you feel that good.
And knowing we’ll never see that from him again should make every fan of the game feel that sad.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org