It’s an ungodly hour and you’re still awake, having fallen into the vast and compelling Trail Blazers YouTube hole. Your night started out with Damian Lillard and his game-winner against Houston, CJ McCollum’s killer crossover on Victor Oladipo, Jusuf Nurkic beasting against Denver last year. Next comes Thomas Robinson stealing the soul of Corey Brewer; Wesley Matthews hitting seven 3-pointers in an amazing bow-and-arrow display; Andre Miller taking flight against the Nuggets for the first time in three (!!) years.
But your night is incomplete. You hit on some of the best highlights, but Blazers fandom doesn’t feel right without lows. For Trail Blazers fans, bittersweet moments lurk behind every success. Those moments shake us to our core; they define us too.
No one made an art out of the bittersweet better than Brandon Roy. From his Rookie of the Year season to his sad, and early, farewell we witnessed it all, even if only for a little while.
“Brandon Roy is special!” Tim Legler exclaims on the ESPN Christmas Day broadcast. I hear him as I watch a video from VintageDawkins, a throwback basketball YouTube channel, about Roy and Carmelo Anthony.
This is honestly one of my favorite videos to watch. You have Roy (who’s rocking a sweet one-sleeve undershirt) looking young as ever, and playing like it. And on the other side, an equally spry Nuggets-Era Melo.
The game looks old. ESPN’s broadcast is nowhere near the quality we see now. Notice the headbands on multiple players; J.R. Smith is a Nugget; Steve Blake is a Blazer; Joel Przybilla is playing basketball; Nate McMillan prowls beside Portland’s bench (with a cast after rupturing his Achilles in practice); George Karl monitors Denver’s bench, probably thinking of all the gross things to say in his tell-all book.
Yet it’s the young B-Roy who steals the show.
Roy is only two and a half seasons removed from winning Rookie of the Year. He hasn’t touched the floor in the playoffs just yet — he will later that season. He’s on his way to a third All-Star selection in February.
But in this game he puts on the garb of an old vet: He displays floaters, step-backs, a deadly three-point shot, finishes at the rim, on and on. His nickname is The Natural and all his scoring moves look that way.
You know what’s un-natural? Becoming a Trail Blazers fan while growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But the Bucks made it easy. They ended their season 2007-08 season 26-56. I was 10 years old and starting to get serious about sports, both in playing and in fandom. They were the hometown team, so, by default, that’s where my NBA allegiance laid. Yet I was a free agent of sorts. I wasn’t totally committed to the Bucks. I waited for something to sway me. Roy was that something.
The Shot that Changed Everything
When people ask me why I’m a Blazers fan, my response is always Brandon Roy. “I saw him hit The Shot against the Rockets and my basketball world immediately became connected to his.”
I think that shot was a wake-up call for many people. In November of 2008, against the Houston Rockets, Roy hit the greatest buzzer-beater ever (no hyperbole) from 30 feet out:
This shot is part of Blazers lore, and it’s probably the defining moment of Brandon’s career.
Considering it doesn’t even take the full 0.8 seconds for Roy to catch, gather and shoot his eventual buzzer-beater, you can replay the shot and all its perfection — the lofty arc, the flawless swish, B-Roy pulling his jersey out of his shorts in celebration, the Rose Garden crowd not knowing what to do with themselves — over and over without losing much time out of your day. It’s like watching a movie for the second time in theaters: You’re bound to find something you missed the last time.
A Night Like No Other
The aforementioned 52-point game might be the apex of Roy’s abilities, the perfect confluence of high scoring and the team needing every single point to win. But The Comeback is really a metaphor for Roy’s relationship with the Blazers: pinnacle performance from a tragic hero. Brandon Mitchell of Pinwheel Empire captured it perfectly:
This goosebump-envoking ride is special for me because I didn’t get to watch the game. And, really, I didn’t watch many of Roy’s games. I was a child with a strict curfew, so staying up until midnight to watch the Blazers was a no-go. Not until later would I understand the implications of Brandon Roy, star turned surgical dummy, making a triumphant return to the court and leading a historic NBA comeback. But like Roy’s other great feats, the performance stands the test of time and grows in the retelling.
Brandon Roy and Us
Roy is no longer playing. He’s out of the headlines nowadays. Unlike some players (current and former), he does not document every aspect of his life on Snapchat, Instagram, etc. Would it make it easier to be a fan if I could religiously follow what B-Roy was doing every day? Maybe. But “day-to-day” never revealed the true Roy like the Timeless Moments did.
I wrote this entire piece before I stumbled upon what Ben Golliver once wrote about Roy on this same site, but it struck me instantly:
In reading accounts in the aftermath of the abrupt end to his career, it’s amazing how often writers have employed the first-person. I didn’t even think to try to write this post without it. Roy was a phenomenon in that sense, a player and person so magnetizing and magnificent that he left those who came in contact with him thinking, "I just talked to Brandon Roy. I’m probably going to be telling my grandchildren about this."
He’s right. Brandon Roy talk always felt like it was about more than just a player. It’s about fandom and connection, making memories and keeping them alive.
I couldn’t take in Roy’s magic from the 300 level of the Rose Garden; I couldn’t see the impact of people walking around Portland rocking their No. 7 jerseys. My memory comes not from watching him play, but feeling his highlights mix with my memories. That’s the beauty of his career, though.
Unlike Golliver, I might not ever talk to Brandon Roy. But like him, I’ll probably tell my grandchildren about The Shot, the 52-point game, The Comeback, all of it.
Those are the seminal moments left by Roy in his absence. But we, as fans, all have our own memories of those moments — everyone has a book full of their Roy memories stashed somewhere. That book grows and grows as we share our memories with others. Brandon Roy’s existence in Blazers history gave fans so much, the least we could do is make sure he’s never forgotten.
You can talk Blazers with me on Twitter @_idelossantos, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.