When I was looking through the SLAMonline archives, I was shocked to see that there was not some gushing piece explaining how amazing Brandon Roy performed against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of the First Round of the 2011 Playoffs. This game happened nearly eight months ago but, when you watch the video of Roy making shot after shot with the Rose Garden crowd going absolutely berserk, it still seems like it happened yesterday. The goosebumps are still fresh.
Maybe that feeling that something happened so recently, that lingering emotion, is a good way to sum up Brandon Roy’s career. He was drafted in 2006 and now, by all accounts, he is retiring from the game of basketball forever. That’s only five seasons of basketball and only two of those came close to being full seasons. From the ’06-07 season, Roy played in the following amount of games in chronological order: 57, 74, 78, 65, 47. And yet, he was named the Rookie of the Year in ’07, was an All-Star in ’08, ’09 and ’10 during a period when the West was absolutely loaded at the guard position, and was named to the All-NBA Second-Team in 2009.
He played in front of one of the most rabid and supportive fan bases in the NBA and, despite his complaints from time to time, was one of the most likable players in the NBA. He wasn’t fast or even quick, but he had an all-around game that seemed to catch you off-guard at all times. You saw him coming, but then all of a sudden there was Roy, right past you, making a lefty hook near the rim. And now it’s over, even though it seemed like he was getting started.
I’m always baffled and fascinated by history so it strikes me as especially interesting that Roy played for the same franchise that Bill Walton made so popular. Like Walton, Roy’s career was cut short and impaired due to injury. Roy was never as transcendent as Walton and never brought a title to Portland, but he was still a fantastic player whose body betrayed him in the Rose City. There probably isn’t any kind of coincidence there because Trail Blazer fans were treated to the terrific Clyde Drexler teams of the late ’80s and early ’90s that were foiled only by their competition and not injury or fate. Yet, on the other hand, maybe there is some kind of cosmic connection.
Speaking of fascinating history, let’s revisit Game 4 against the Mavs. Throughout the ‘10-11 season, the Blazers saw the writing on the wall—they knew that Roy’s knees were gone, that Portland’s favorite son, the new bedrock of their franchise and his freshly signed five-year, $82 million contract would need to be put out to pasture. All of a sudden, LaMarcus Aldridge was ready to have the offense run through him, and sure enough, he was the beast of a player everyone had always wanted him to be.
Aldridge played like the team’s All-Star, leading the Blazers as they entered the Playoffs. Then, after Roy complained about playing time and apologized, we were at Game 4, an evenly matched game that turned into what looked like a blowout. But then Roy pulled the Blazers and the Rose Garden off the ropes with improbable three-pointers, bank shots, elusive drives to the rim and all of a sudden the place was rocking and the Mavericks were on the ropes. And I’ll never forget the back-to-back baskets Roy made; first, the four-point play, and then the bank shot that sent the crowd’s frenzy to another level.
Just watching the sequence again, with the incessant crowd, and thousands of Portlandians in red and black holding their hands above their heads, it feels special. The game did come down to a last ditch three-pointer from Jason Terry that barely missed, but once Roy was going and that crowd was going you somehow knew it was Portland’s game. And it was. And it was special.
What I am saying about history is that perhaps that game meant something more; perhaps Roy’s Game 4 was his farewell at the time and we just never knew it. Sure, the series was tied at two games apiece and the Blazers could’ve gone on to the next round, but how often does the universe just open like that and make moments as special as that Game 4? Not very often, and it’s the reason we watch sports.
A pragmatist might say that Roy’s Game 4 had nothing to do with history or the universe, that it was just a great game from a great player whose body was failing but was still capable of performing at a near high-level in spurts. And that’s probably true. But something in me wants to believe, or has to believe that that Game 4 was a way for Brandon Roy to truly touch the history of the game of basketball and make a mark, because he truly deserved it.
Sure, his name will be etched on those All-Star rosters, on the All-NBA Teams and as the 2007 NBA Rookie of the Year, but when we think back about Brandon Roy, we are going to remember a guy who left the League too soon for reasons that were out of his control. We are going to remember a hazy April afternoon in 2011 when Roy stopped the hands of time, or perhaps turned them back just a little bit and exhibited each and every gift he could contribute to the game of basketball. The fact that he did it in front of a crowd that has a history of appreciation, that knows greatness taken too soon, is even more fitting.
You may be a pragmatist or you may believe in the cosmos like me, but either way you have to agree that Brandon Roy gave us a moment in time we can always go back and dissect for meaning and enjoyment over and over again, which is what life is about for most of us who don’t have a chance to win an NBA title. So, we can forever thank him for that.
Ah, just go back and watch the tape.