A few weeks back, a topic of conversation was introduced on Talkin' Ball which, this late in the Blazers' 2013-14 season, seemed like ancient history. The Cleveland Cavaliers had just held a big ceremony to retire the jersey of Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Zydrunas—Big Z to his friends and fans—isn’t quite a household name, but he’s not exactly a deep-cut, either.
Over the course of 12 seasons with the Cavs—and one season with the Miami Heat—the 7-foot-3-inch Lithuanian lost in the NBA Finals once and played in two All-Star Games. He also played in more games than any other Cavalier in franchise history.
On the Comcast roundtable show that follows every Blazer broadcast, the retirement of Z’s jersey sparked debate over whether or not the Blazers should retire the No. 7 jersey of Brandon Roy.
The various arguments made by the Comcast pundits are irrelevant, as is the question of whether or not it was appropriate to compare Ilgauskas to Roy, or if mentioning Z and Roy in the same sentence somehow equates the career of one to the career of the other. But even if the jersey retirement argument is a lot of nonsense—filler content for a filler show—there’s a real question in play here. And despite what some Blazer fans might say, it’s already been answered.
That question, of course, is where does Brandon Roy fit in the pantheon of legendary Blazers? And what is the legacy of arguably the most important Portland Trail Blazer of the first decade of this century?
The Brandon Roy question might seem a bit odd, considering that his name hasn’t come up in connection to the NBA since the Minnesota Timberwolves waived him back in May o2013. Roy’s comeback was a bust, and though he’s not officially retired, he won’t be back in the NBA.
But still, that’s old news. So why talk about Roy now? Because this season, more than any other Blazer season in recent memory, there’s been a concerted effort to link the current day Blazers to the highly successful Blazer teams of the past, Blazer teams that made it as far as the Western Conference Finals three times, won the Western Conference twice and won it all one glorious time.
A set of framed photos were recently added to the hall that runs from the media work room and dining area to the home locker room, deep in the heart of the Moda Center. It’s a pictorial history of the triumphs of the Portland Trail Blazers.
The images include the ’77 NBA Champion squad, along with various Blazer heroes like Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen and Paul Allen, and stretch along both sides of the long hallway that’s off-limits to the general public.
The timeline starts in 1970-71, the birth-year of Rip City, and runs right up to 2013-14, the NBA season currently nearing what is going to be an undeniably thrilling conclusion. But there’s an obvious break in the timeline.
An iconic photo of Pippen with his fists raised is marked with the date 2000, an important year for the Blazers. It was that year that Portland last participated in the playoffs beyond the first round. It was that year too that Shaq, Kobe, and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers broke the collective hearts of the Rose City, setting a chain of events in motion that began a season later with the ouster of 1998-99 Coach of the Year Mike Dunleavy and ended with the 2005-06 Blazers wheeling and dealing on draft night to land a couple of heavyweight lottery picks in Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.
The back-hallway trip down memory lane isn’t short on Aldridge. L.A.’s first All-Star game appearance gets its own photo. And a milestone of more recent memory, the 11-game winning streak that put the Blazers on the map back in November, is there, too.
It’s Brandon Roy that’s missing. The Blazers’ visual history stops in 2000, and picks up again in 2012, a hiatus of 12 years—a hiatus that includes the entire time Roy wore a Blazer jersey.
Sure, that time period included the beginning and unfortunate ending of Greg Oden’s time in Portland, along with the starts and finishes of the tenures of such illustrious Blazer as Juan Dixon, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw, Marcus Camby and Andre Miller, not to mention Blazers Jamal Crawford, Gerald Wallace, and Raymond Felton. But it’s not the absence of those guys that stands out.
When the timeline picks back up, the Blazers are celebrating the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge as a superstar and Damian Lillard as Rookie of the Year. It’s almost as if three straight trips to the playoffs and back-to-back 50-win seasons never happened. Or that Roy’s three All-Star Games and one Second-Team All NBA selection were no impressive feat.
Three photos commemorating the last three seasons, and nothing to even indicate Roy was once a Blazer. It’s rather telling of how the organization answers the question about where Roy belongs in Blazer lore.
It’s not just the wall of photo memories that’s without Brandon Roy. A pre-game intro in heavy rotation this season, again starting in ’77, working through the early ‘90s, into the 2000s and up to the present, reels off Blazer history without so much as a glimmer of the memorable plays that elevated Brandon Roy to superstar status.
Not a single commercial promoting the Blazers this season features the almost half-court jumper Roy sank against the Houston Rockets which, just a few short seasons ago, was not just the go-to clip for hyping the Blazers, but also ran on advertisements for the NBA at large.
So where does Brandon Roy belong in the Blazers’ Hall of Legends? Apparently nowhere at all.
Oregonian beat writer Jason Quick waxed poetic in Damian Lillard’s first season, opining that the rise of the point guard made Rip City forget about Brandon.
That the love of Lillard, a dynamic scoring guard with a personality that doesn’t overwhelm his game, sprung from the need to fill the holes in the hearts of Blazer fans wallowing in the loss of Roy, is a nice, "everything happens in cycles" kind of premise, whether it holds water or not.
More realistically, Blazers brass made a conscious decision to emphasize a young player on the rise in Lillard and, in Aldridge, a maturing player finding his place with the big boys in the league, over a player with a pair of failing knee joints, an amnesty tag and an expurgated, nearly unwatchable second act. Who can really blame them?
Dwight Jaynes was correct in saying that if anybody should be celebrated for the Blazers coming out clean after a few lean years in the beginning of this most recent century it should be the team’s billionaire owner Paul Allen, and probably not Roy.
But Allen didn’t score 52 points against the Suns, or grab 10 steals against the Washington Wizards, or score 18 points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks. Brandon Roy did all those things, and he effectively brought the Blazers back from the brink of near-extinction. Does that warrant rafter treatment? Probably. Is it going to happen soon? Unlikely.
Barring some kind of historic collapse, Portland will be back in the playoffs for the first time in the post-Roy era. (The Blazers have already secured their first season with a winning record since Roy retired.) Putting this current team into the conversation about the highly successful teams of the recent past is the order of the day, and Brandon Roy doesn't quite fit into that equation.
There was a time when retiring Roy’s jersey seemed an appropriate way to honor the artificially shortened career of a great player. That time will come again in the future. That time, however, is not now.
The Blazers have known it for a while. Now it’s time for everybody else to know that, too.