Posted Dec 9 2011 8:34PM
Knowing what we now know, it was one of the greatest good-byes in recent basketball history, the hoops equivalent of Regis Philbin wiping away a tear.
Brandon Roy didn't last as long in his chosen profession, but at least he made that stretch in Game 4 last spring seem like a lifetime of brilliance.
The amazing part was how he did it, how he sliced through the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks for 24 points and hearing a thunderous postgame standing ovation, given how his knees belonged on a 65-year-old.
So let's give Roy, a great teammate and super ambassador for the Trail Blazers, another round of applause just for going out in style with knees too cumbersome to take him on a ride to the sunset.
You remember. Roy scored 18 points in the fourth quarter when he originally wasn't even supposed to play at a high level again. He pulled the Blazers back from the brink in that game and stunned the Mavericks -- if not the medical world. He made eight of 10 baskets and secured the biggest fourth-quarter playoff comeback in team history with major plays in the clutch.
It was a performance that would've been masterful for a completely healthy player ... and was illogical for someone who endured six surgeries.
When Roy made the last-minute decision Friday morning to retire rather than put himself in danger of being unable to chase his kids or grandkids in the backyard, it was understandably met with sadness in Portland. You must understand where the Blazers were before they acquired Roy in a 2006 Draft-day swap with Minnesota.
The franchise was staggering back from a series of public-relations pratfalls that angered and disappointed a fiercely proud and loyal basketball community. Roy came along and it was if someone raised the windows to let the stink out. Not only was he NBA-ready, he was a joy to be around, with an approachable, ordinary-guy persona that went over well in laid-back Portland.
He was Rookie of the Year, and then a three-time All-Star, and then made the All-NBA second and third teams in back-to-back seasons. He averaged 19 points, almost five assists and five rebounds a night for his five seasons. He appeared cut from the mold of Clyde Drexler, a flashy player who reflected well on the franchise and good enough to take the club on regular trips to the postseason. Problem was, the knee issues came as fast as the praise and honors, to the point where Roy was physically unable to do what his competitiveness and pride asked him to do.
It's amazing how a franchise can be so unlucky with injuries, most recently by stealing away Roy's prime, but starting with Bill Walton and continuing with Sam Bowie and Greg Oden. And speaking of Oden, with just 82 games of action since being drafted first overall in 2007, he isn't expected to play a full season once again. His time in Portland could end next summer because at this point he simply doesn't have enough of a NBA history to give the Blazers any assurances. Just today, he restructured his deal because of another injury setback.
As encouraged as the Blazers are about the upcoming season, they'll always be plagued by a severe case of the what-if's: As in, what if Roy and Oden had been injury-free all these years?
The only silver lining in the case of Roy lies with his contract, which has another $63 million left. Insurance will cover the bulk of that, and the Blazers can wipe Roy's salary off the books beginning in 2012-13. It allows them to save their amnesty for another day and another player, rather than use it on Roy. Plus, by being relieved of his contract, it gives them the financial flexibility to move forward. Basically, they've been given a chance to find another Brandon Roy, if they're so lucky.
Yes, good luck finding an All-Star with as much humility and professionalism, with a soft jumper to compliment a hard drive to the hoop, and a player willing to give the same effort on both ends of the floor. Roy was all that.
Obviously, the right thing for Portland now is to find a way to keep Roy part of the organization in some capacity. Just not in the capacity he and the Blazers would prefer. Maybe the cruelest part is how Roy is being forced to walk away from the game at age 27, just so he'll be able to walk comfortably, period.
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