I met Brandon Roy when I was 16 at an autograph signing at a car-dealership in my hometown of Salem, Oregon. He and LaMarcus Aldridge signed a basketball for me that day that I still have. Both of them were so nice to everyone, which was such a shift from how things were with the old Blazers. They shook my hand. I felt respected. I asked Aldridge about his shoulder and he said he was “all good.” Roy had that typical smile we all loved. I had my buddy snap a picture of the three of us on my old camera phone. The picture is lost with the phone or somewhere on my deleted Myspace account. I would do anything to have that picture back right now.
I’m a fan of many sports teams, but only one team is truly my favorite, and that is the Portland Trail Blazers. I had a Damon Stoudamire jersey in third grade. I’ve had theBlazers 1992-1993 Dairy Queen glasses since I can remember. I had the “Bust-a-Bucket” cassette tape. I can remember crying after Sean Elliot broke my heart and even harder after Kobe served it up on a platter for Shaq to demolish. Despite all this, no Blazer has ever brought me more joy as a fan than Brandon Roy. He brought Portland light during the team’s darkest days.
The “Jail Blazers” alienated fans. Zach Randolph routinely started fights at practice, Qyntel Woods was training dogs for fights while he was stoned, and our defensive stopper, Ruben Patterson, was a registered sex-offender.
The community had disconnected with its team. They let the trouble-makers in at the expense of winning but then, the winning stopped. The 2005-06 season was the low-point. The once-vibrant Rose Garden was now an unkempt plot that was getting torn up by everyone from Lebron James to Nenad Kristic.
Rip City was lost. Memories of the heartbreaks of 1999 and 2000 were easier to take when we were in that dark place. Most of us just wanted Scottie and Sabas back. And then, Brandon came.
During the ’06 Draft, ESPN’s Jay Bilas kept saying Brandon Roy was the most NBA-ready player and for me, that was enough for me to want the Blazers to draft him.
The first game I saw during the Roy era, ironically enough, he started the game and then left due to injury in November 2006. It was a 27-point comeback win against Chris Paul and the Hornets. My parents had business at an educational conference in Portland and I, not wanting to be stuck in the hotel room all night, took the MAX from downtown to the Rose Garden. Even though Roy only played 7 minutes, it didn’t stop me from buying a shirt that had a picture of Roy that used his last name’s likeness to the acronym for Rookie of the Year (R.O.Y.) to hype up his rookie campaign. Roy eventually won the Rookie of the Year award in 2006-07 despite only playing 57 games, averaging 16.8 points and 4 assists per game.
A 13-game winning streak in December of 2007 was Roy’s signature stretch of that season. I was lucky enough to see win No. 10 of that stretch against Denver with a group of friends in the last row of the Rose Garden. Roy went shot for shot with Carmelo Anthony. Down the stretch, he carried the Blazers like he did so many more times. But this time, he was going toe-to-toe with a bona-fide superstar. He capped his performance with a game-winning block on Carmelo Anthony and the building lost it. I’ve still never heard “Let’s Go Blazers!” louder, and that was after the game, in the concourse nonetheless.
From then on, I knew he was special.
That year, he made his first All-Star game appearance, tying Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony as the West’s leading scorers.
2008-09 was Roy at his most brilliant. Roy put the Blazers on his back.
Against Houston, he made time stand still with his three-pointer to win the game with .08 seconds left. I never found so much joy jumping around and celebrating with a bunch of dudes in a tiny college dorm room. His 52-points against Phoenix, his buzzer-beating lay-up against New York andanother all-star appearance were all amazing moments.
He was second-team all-NBA that year and went to his second consecutive All-Star game. Ron Artest said that Brandon Roy was the best player he’d ever played against that year. One of my favorite memories of that year was after Portland, who was terrible on the road all season, won at San Antonio late in the season. It was a “statement-game,” the front-page of ESPN.com had a picture of Roy and the headline said, “Youth is served.”
I’ll let that one soak in for a second.
Yao Ming and the Blazers’ lack of boxing-out in the playoffs prematurely ended what seemed to be a promising playoff run. I still have nightmares of Kyle Lowry getting fourth quarter offensive rebounds.
Roy was close to challenging Kobe Bryant as the West’s premier two-guard and if you had asked me then which one I’d rather have, I would have said “Roy,” without blinking.
But, in 2009-10 was when the trouble started to come. He missed 17 games due to troubles with sore knees, yet still managed to make an All-Star game and have multiple great games along the way. Before the playoffs, after it seemed he turned a corner, Roy got hurt early in a late-season game against the Lakers. The Blazers eventually won, but I’ve never had a Blazers road win against the Lakers taste so bittersweet. We were told that he was to have surgery on his torn meniscus and that he would be out several weeks.
Down 2-1 in the playoffs after two dominant Phoenix performances, I bought tickets to Game 4 with some friends having no idea what Roy had in store for us. On Twitter, just minutes before we entered the cell-phone abyss that is the Rose Garden, I saw reports that Roy would be in uniform. When he got up off the bench, the place erupted. I never saw so many people awe at someone simply taking their sweats off and walk before. That is what Roy meant to Portland. He finished with 12 points including a three-pointer that put the game away, and it was the most meaningful 12 points I’ve ever seen.
Right before the 2010-11 season Kobe Bryant said Brandon Roy was his toughest opponent to guard. Unfortunately that was when we saw the rapid decline in his health. ESPN announcers were nearly writing his eulogy in a game last December against Dallas, the same team he played in the mostinspiring quarter of basketball many have ever seen in last season’s miraculous Game 4.
I was studying abroad in Spain and with the time difference, couldn’t see many full games. This game had an afternoon tip on the west coast and it started at a normal hour for me at 11PM (just after dinner time for those not familiar with Spain’s gastronomic schedule). I remember trying to not yell in my bedroom in-order not to disturb my host family. I felt chills from something happening halfway across the globe. The confetti came down gracefully from the Rose Garden rafters on Roy’s shoulders. I was on the verge of tears…okay, maybe I was more than just on the verge. He could barely talk in the post-game interview and I was even more choked up. With nobody around to share the moment with, I was more attached to the man on the screen. That was the last time I watched Brandon Roy walk off the Rose Garden floor a winner.
I grew up over the course of Brandon Roy’s career. I saw all the seasons of him as I too changed. We are now at his career’s winter and it just seems a little too cold for all of us. We have our memories and even if it is sad now with news of his retirement, he put a smile on all of Rip City’s fans and sometimes brought tears of joy to our eyes. Brandon Roy’s knees may lack cartilage but his chest lacks no heart. I can’t find the right words to end, so I found this to say goodbye in the only way one possibly can.