This past Sunday, myself, him and a group of others crowded over our friends' Ryan and Charlotte's apartment for Ryan's 26th birthday. The Packers/Raiders game was on CBS and, within a quarter, the outcome was already decided, thanks in part to Aaron Rodgers and his galloping band of misfits known simply as the "Discount Double Checks." Somehow, someway, the NBA arose as a topic of discussion. That's around the time this brief back-and-forth came up.
Me: **sips beer** "It's sad as hell to see Brandon Roy's career end the way it did."
Terrell: "What? Sad? I don't feel sorry for him at all. F*ck that. You see his bank account?"
From there, yelling, cursing and laughing made up the gist of the conversation. More importantly, no progress was made as he stuck to his guns and me to mine. It was like our own version of the NBA lockout, circa a month ago. Still, I couldn't help shake the feeling Roy's career was given a raw deal and, added to the fact Yao Ming dealt with the same blow earlier this year, one thing was apparent. In a league filled with superstars, arguably the most since the mid '90's, Brandon Roy's sudden exit from the game of basketball is a black eye. Where Yao represented a cultural shift and, arguably, the best center in the league when healthy (check his stats against Dwight Howard), the man who helped make the University of Washington a nationally-known program was undoubtedly one of the better players, period, and a top-three two guard behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.
What ultimately sucks about Roy's retirement is that it stems at an age when NBA players, especially guards, enter the prime of their careers. He's 27. Let that marinate for a second. Brandon Roy is 27 years old and being forced to unlace his sneakers, because no medical treatment in the world would restructure knees that've plagued him for years, even as he played through pain since stepping foot in the NBA. For now though, we're left with the most painful question there is in sports, "what if?"
-- What if Roy's knees never abandon him?
-- What if Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden could have actually played together (long term) at the same time?
And the most heartbreaking of them all...
-- What if the city of Portland didn't have such bad basketball luck?
Through all accounts, Roy, the player, is/was everything that was right about a rising superstar. He called teammates out when needed, relished being "that guy" in a basketball-hungry city, a gym rat when health permitted and a constant student of the game. If there's more you could ever ask for, I'm not aware of it. The 2006 Rookie of the Year (the award's acronym spelled his name!) even commanded respect from the game's finest, from Kobe singing his praises and Ron Ar...I mean, Metta World Peace referring to him as the best player he's ever played against, aside from some unnamed fellow from Queens he grew up with.
When it comes to players, you always remember moments. There's Roy's legendary game-winner versus Houston with 0.8 seconds left; a shot that appeared to descend from the heavens to seal the Rockets fate. Then, there's his six game run in the 2009 playoffs. It resulted in a first round loss to Houston, but Brandon's performance was one of those "he's-going-to-explode-next-season" type showcases. He averaged 27 points, five rebounds and three assists, including a standing ovation worthy Game Two where he poured in 42 points. There was this underlying feeling around the league that if Roy stayed committed to the game (done deal) and his knees worked with him (not a done deal), the Trailblazers would finally cash in on those years of "potential."
And lastly, and what will go down as one of the more iconic playoff moments ever, was his last valiant punch to the history books and memory banks. If every great player has an Ali moment, this was Brandon Roy's, without the shadow of a doubt. His Game Four fourth quarter where he piled in 18 points to help Portland overcome a 23-point defect against the Mavericks was amazing to see live and even more bittersweet to watch on YouTube. Watching him shed tears directly following the game, at the time, may have appeared to be nothing more than playoff intensity. But what it actually was was a player who realized this could be, in all likelihood, his last great, timeless contribution to the game.
There were supposed to be at least seven more years of moments like that, moments where Brandon Roy would will Portland to win and moments where he, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden would tap into the surplus of potential that was bestowed upon them. Think about that team butting heads with what Oklahoma City has to offer now, and watch yourself get pissed knowing we won't be able to. Instead, we'll look back at his career and be forced to lump it along the hordes of players who never achieved their true potential, because the body and mind never joined the same wavelength. The Penny Hardaways. The Grant Hills. The Ron Harpers of the world, and that's just to name a few, with the big difference being they at least still continued to play.
Roy's decision to retire stung immensely from a basketball fan standpoint, yet, it made all the sense in the world, from a grown man perspective. According to sources, a doctor gave an ominous warning: "You can’t do this. You might end up not walking.” There's a love for the game, and then there's a love for your own personal well-being. Basketball's glory lasts for a set amount of time. Being a father and husband, which he is, is a lifetime commitment. I'll miss seeing Brandon Roy in the league, but I will eternally respect the fact he left as a class act, regardless if it were not on his own terms. A reported $70M severance package doesn't hurt either.
Life, however, isn't always about moving at the pace of our own drum. Hurdles come and hurdles go. The only thing that matters is we clear them because, at the end of the day, we're all going to have to walk away from something we love.
And just walking away is a blessing in itself.