The Unfolding Tragedy of a Seattle Legend, or Brandon Roy and the Missing Meniscus

We mourned Dave Niehaus last week because we’ll miss the joy his considerable professional talents granted to a generation of Seattleites. But what if Niehaus had suffered some injury early in his career, rendering him unable to announce. Wouldn’t that have been just as tragic?

Seattle native and NBA star Brandon Roy, who starred at Garfield High and then at the University of Washington, is facing just such a tragedy. Roy’s knees, balky at the best of times, are plotting a complete work stoppage.

Roy has complained of pain all season. Blazer trainers thought Roy’s meniscus, the knee cartilage that absorbs friction between the upper and lower leg bones, might be the problem. They asked a specialist whether surgery might be a good idea. Not necessary, doc said. Roy doesn’t have any meniscus left to operate on.

“(It’s) bone-on-bone there,” Roy told The Oregonian. “It’s something I’m going to have to deal with for the rest of my career.”

Roy’s menisci have been a chronic issue. He had surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee 2001, as a junior at Garfield High. He tore the meniscus in his right knee in 2004, surgery to repair it cost Roy most of his junior season with Washington. Roy’s left knee meniscus got another repair in 2008, just before his third season with Portland. Then, during last season’s playoffs, it was his right knee’s turn for a second surgery.

All season, Roy’s had swelling in the knee. If you’ve watched Roy since his UW days, you can tell something’s wrong. He doesn’t have the same explosive first step that’s always helped him get by defenders. He isn’t elevating on his jump shot, in fact hardly elevating at all. He’s mostly sitting back and attempting jumpers. He calls it “his ground game.”

That’s not the game that earned Roy the 2007 NBA Rookie of the Year award, the game that got him to the last three NBA All-Star games, the game that made Portland a legit contender and looked to have Roy on track for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Roy wasn’t just representing Seattle well, he was also giving back. He convinced Blazers management to hold a public scrimmage at Garfield High this October, and donate $10,000 to the Garfield High Foundation.

Last Friday, the Blazers decided that anti-inflammatory medicine was the best they could do for Roy. Then, Saturday, Roy took himself out of the Blazers’ game against New Orleans after feeling a sharp pain in the knee.

Former Blazers assistant Monte Williams, now the Hornets’ head coach, could barely watch. “Watching him struggle like that, that was tough,” Williams told The Oregonian. “I think he’s at a big-time crossroads right now.”

Today, Roy will have an MRI on that troublesome left knee. Odd as it sounds, the best thing is probably if they find something wrong. Roy’s best long-term hope is that his knee can be repaired. If not, he’s looking at season after season of fighting through pain, night after night, through an 82-game NBA regular season and playoffs that can be 20 games more.

Money won’t be an issue. Roy signed a five-year, $82 million contract last August. Like all NBA contracts, it’s fully guaranteed. But a crippled Roy would make that a crippling contract for the Blazers. It would also be crippling for the legions of Blazers fans who were expecting to enjoy Roy’s talents for another decade at least.

Photo by dalechumbley via Creative Commons/Flickr.