Reminiscent of the betrayal of Bill Walton’s body, the former Huskies star is forced to call it quits in Portland after five splendid seasons.
Ever pull away from a great Thanksgiving dinner after two bites?
Four years were too few for Roy’s fans at the University of Washington. But given the way college ball works these days, four was a feast. Five years of pro ball is a diet most cruel.
News Friday that Roy was surrendering his hoops career in order to be able to walk for the rest of his life was not a surprise to those who followed closely his recent decline. Which doesn’t reduce a single bit the shock surrounding the end of one of the game’s most elegant, powerful, commendable careers at 27.
Roy was an All-State selection at Garfield High School, an All-America pick at Washington, an All-NBA player at Portland and is still all-world to most anyone who has encountered him in a gym, an airport or a coffee shop. One who knows him fairly well is a good friend of mine, Dan Raley, a longtime colleague at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer who now is an editor at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Raley and Roy collaborated on a manuscript for the player’s biography, as yet unpublished.
“It’s sad,” Raley wrote in an email. “Brandon talked to me about making it to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He talked about how much he liked Portland and how he was viewed there. He talked about how his game was so made to order for the pros, unlike college ball, and how early on he realized this.
“(Blazers head coach) Nate (McMillan) told him to take the ball and create with it. He told his dad in his rookie training camp, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to be pretty good.’ Brandon made a crack that he never could have played for the Phoenix Suns, because of the playground speed they play at. Portland and Nate were perfect for him.”
The match was so good and rare on so many levels, particularly after his hometown lost its NBA team following the 2008 season. The Northwest kid had a solid mentor in the former “Mr. Sonic,” McMillan, and in some ways emulated McMillan’s heady style as a player — only with more talent.
But his knees began to trouble him. After surgery following a collision with Ron Artest in the 2010 playoffs, Raley said Roy reported his knees felt different, sluggish. He knew things had changed. Doctors told him he had no knee cartilage; the joints were like a bad set of brakes, metal on metal.
“He had at double arthroscopy last winter, but it was wishful thinking and an act of desperation for him,” Raley wrote. “He said to me and others he knew that people were dismissing him and everybody would just have to wait and see. He sounded almost defiant. Like any athlete, it was hard to let go.”
By the 2011 playoffs, he was a pull-up shooter with little lateral quickness. When McMillan played him only eight minutes in a playoff game, Roy uncharacteristically complained in public. The civic hero was criticized by some fans.
He answered with a final Brandon Roy moment in game four of a series against Dallas, the eventual champion. He scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner with 40 seconds left.
Even as late as Monday, after he met with Blazers officials including McMillan, the team said — but more like hoped — that he would be part of the new, truncated NBA season. But by Friday, even though there was no official announcement, word came that Roy knew he was done.
More than a generation earlier, the same thing happened to the same team with another transcendent star. No one had seen anyone quite like 6-foot-11 Bill Walton, so agile, swift, smart and dominant. For five years, he was Superman — then Clark Kent, victim of Kryptonite feet on a $100 million body.
So too, did body parts betray Roy. Walton managed to get a fraction of his former glory in a run with the Boston Celtics, but the same is unlikely for Roy. The marathon to the Hall of Fame has become a lap of greatness.
Much is said about sportsmanship and fairness. They are aspirations far more than they are realities. Roy is upon his cruelest days as an athlete.
As a person, Roy has a head start on a new beginning, one that has every prospect of being as triumphal as his days around and above the hoop.