They keep telling Brandon Roy that the Rookie of the Year belongs to him, that it's him and everyone else for the award. Since the All-Star game, this has been the steady beat, and Roy smiles and dutifully nods and swears that the honor has been thrust far down on his personal priorities. As soon as he walks through his front door now, there's that newborn, Brandon Roy Jr., cooing, burping and looking back at his father with eyes that buckle his knees.
"My son has slowed everything down for me," Roy said. "He's come at the perfect time for me, when I've needed to stay humbled and grounded. There he is every day waiting for me. Win or lose, he doesn't care. He's happy to see me."
This has been the season of Roy understanding that he was playing for someone else, for something bigger than himself. Brandon Jr. happened to make it resonate on a deeper level. The Portland Trail Blazers needed a grownup to transform this forlorn franchise, a lottery pick who could be the cornerstone to slowly and surely let a beleaguered Blazers fan base believe they could begin to trust again.
"I've learned how much they want to believe in me as a basketball player, and as a role model in this community," said Roy, 22. "I've embraced it. These fans are great. I mean, if we play well and can be positive forces in this community, they'll support us to the end."
For too long, they had been burned again and again in Portland, the home office for head cases, and so here came a fresh-faced kid with an easy smile and a breezy game. Everything had to start somewhere with these Blazers, and it started here, with the sixth pick in the 2006 NBA draft, the 6-foot-6 guard who played the game with elegance and maturity and still had an uncertainty hanging over him.
Despite missing 22 games, Roy is the easy call for NBA Rookie of the Year. He has averaged 16.7 points, four rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.2 steals a game, but the truth hasn't been so much in the statistics as it's been in the manner in which he's made this franchise, this team, his own. Maybe Zach Randolph has been the big scorer, but his recurring knucklehead tendencies long ago cast him as part of the problem, the old regime.
For years, the Blazers turned out to be long on flash and short on substance. Across the season, between injuries to start and end his regular season, Roy has honored the faith of Portland management that believed the genius was in the extraordinary way he lit up a basketball court with a spectacular savvy and sureness.
"He is a great provider on our team," Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said. "He makes sure everybody is taken care of and then he worries about himself second. That's the sign of a solid leader."
As assistant G.M. a year ago, Pritchard was a driving force in working the trade with Boston that essentially dealt Sebastian Telfair away for the rights to Roy. Telfair was everything that Pritchard has been determined to move this franchise past, the kind of unfulfilled promise that crippled the Blazers for too long. Pritchard has proven himself to be one of the bright, young executives in the sport, and an important part of his ascension to general manager was his three-way trade with the Celtics and Timberwolves that delivered Roy to Portland.
Along with acquiring forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the No. 2 overall selection, from Chicago, it was the prudent path for the Portland. Back at Madison Square Garden on draft night in June, Roy could take a long look and see the young stars who jumped higher, moved quicker and shot better. How many times had Pritchard's predecessors been lured into the Darius Mileses and Travis Outlaws and Martell Websters? They forever fit into that basketball never land of potential – that vague, unquantifiable upside that seduces scouts.
Here's the thing with Roy: He has a tomorrow, but he had a today, too.
"My ability to understand the game and know situations has helped me shine a little bit this season," Roy said. "I'm not great at any one thing, but I do all things equally well. That's always been my goal as a player."
Truth be told, Roy knew what they thought of his type – a belief that there must have been something ultimately flawed with his game that kept him from rushing out of the University of Washington as an underclassmen. He stayed in school, developed an understanding about winning and losing, tested himself in major circumstances in the Pac-10 and NCAA tournament. Mostly, he kept growing on smart basketball people.
"He doesn't get enough credit for his athleticism," Pritchard said. "He goes where he wants to go, where he wants to play, and to me, that's the sign of a great athlete."
For now, the Blazers are counting on the rookie core of Roy, Aldridge and Sergio Rodriguez, whom Roy insists, "is going to be a star in this league." The hope is that Roy can bring Randolph over to the light, instead of the forward dragging teammates to the old Jail Blazers dark side. For now, everything starts with the fresh face of the franchise, Brandon Roy, who dared to stay in school, learn a trade and come determined to make a difference in the pros.
The Blazers needed a grownup to save them, and he arrived, intending to deliver for everyone else – his teammates, his fans and now his baby boy. If he was ever beginning to get a little full of himself this season, Brandon Jr.'s eyes brought him back where a Blazers star hasn't been in a long, long time: feet on the ground, committed to a cause bigger than his own.
- Brandon Roy