On April 23rd, 2011, the Portland Trail Blazers were looking to even their first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks at two games apiece. The chances of accomplishing the feat appeared slim once they fell behind by 23 points in the third quarter, but that’s when Brandon Roy turned back the clock. Despite running on shot knees and having lost a couple of steps, the star led a furious charge with 18 fourth quarter points for an incredible 84-82 victory in front of a raucous Rose Garden crowd.
At the time, Pro Basketball Talk‘s Matt Moore detailed what this meant for Roy:
“It was the stuff of legend, and just when the Mavericks looked like they were going to take complete control of the series, end the hopes of a great crowd, and exert themselves as the better team, the Rose Garden erupts, Brandon Roy returns, and the series is tied. We’ll play three more. If the Mavericks let this get to them, to rattle them and break up their confidence, this could be the upset Blazer fans were so confident about. But regardless, it made for an amazing game, and an incredible comeback for a player who needed it for his soul.”
Roy didn’t have much more left than this to give, though. That wasn’t hard to see. Aside from this outburst, he was difficult to watch–a shadow of his former self. That’s why, though surprising, his retirement was understandable. And though it was a depressing and heartbreaking conclusion to the career of the franchise’s former cornerstone, it was comforting knowing he could go out with one of his final NBA memories being that blast from the past performance.
A year went by, and then Roy felt as I’m sure many retired athletes do: that he could still play. If I had the opportunity to play in the NBA, but then had to give it up, only to feel 100 percent after rehab and during summer workouts I would want to give it another try. It would be difficult to hang up my sneakers for good. The competitive drive would talk, even if there was a little denial infiltrating my thought process, but I would like to think I would ultimately hold off and put my longterm health first.
Roy essentially said ‘Why not?’. He never relied on speed to excel in the league, and maybe he could still shed defenders in a deceptively quick way. And when a team–Minnesota–expressed interest in giving him a chance, he had to jump at it. How could he not? However, when he signed with the Timberwolves, I couldn’t help but expect the worst to take place. Any fan in their right mind had to cringe at the sight of him coming back given his injury history.
That is why the news that Roy will miss at least one month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery–his seventh such procedure–on Monday is not shocking. It is, however, quite saddening and unfortunate. He was a joy to watch in his prime. He helped bring the team out of the Jailblazers era. He was the unquestionable leader of the Blazers. He was a player who continuously came up clutch in front of a fan-base that adored him. And he was a joy to watch in Game 4 of the Dallas series. But he wasn’t in the five games he played in for the Timberwolves this season, during which he shot 31 percent and scored five points in an average of 24 minutes per game. And he won’t be if he comes back following yet another rehab stint.
I applaud his desire to keep playing, but he has to know when his time is up. His time already came, but he didn’t acknowledge it. This time, will he?
He was one of my favorite players. To this day, I watch his highlight videos and get goosebumps. I also get emotional, knowing the Brandon Roy who brought fans out of their seats on a nightly basis is gone. The current version needs to now. It was already painful enough to see him have to hobble away, and it would be even more unbearable to watch him refuse to give up. Seven knee surgeries deep, there isn’t much left to run on. As he rehabs from this latest procedure, will he take this as a sign that he can no longer play? Will he see his comeback as a mistake? Will he retire for good this time?
When one of the most popular players in Blazers history left the game in December of 2011 after hearing from doctors that he might never walk again if he continued suiting up, he said this in a statement released by the team: “My family and health are most important to me and in the end this decision was about them and my quality of life.” Where did the wherewithal go?
If it doesn’t come back, he could experience deja vu upon returning. For his sake and for all who loved him with the Blazers, he can’t allow that to be a possibility.