Last holiday season, I got free tickets to a Blazer game at the Rose Garden. They were good seats in the 100 level, and my eight-year-old son and I watched up close as Brandon Roy scored 52 points against the Phoenix Suns.
This came on the heels of Roy's dramatic buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer against the Houston Rockets a few weeks earlier.
Last holiday season, Brandon Roy could do no wrong in Portland.
He was favorably compared to the greatest Blazer of all time, Clyde Drexler. He was canonized by the normally contentious Portland media, who gushed about his work ethic, his unselfishness, his poise, and his professionalism.
He was, in no uncertain terms, the savior of the franchise.
And make no mistake: This was a franchise that needed saving. A franchise that only five years ago was named as having the worst public image in all of sports in a national poll. A franchise that was on the verge of being sold and possibly moved to another city.
A franchise that was known as "the Jail Blazers."
More than anyone else, Roy has been responsible for changing all of that, largely because he defied the conventional wisdom that prevailed during the Bob Whitsitt/Steve Patterson era and showed that he could be an All-Star and a good guy at the same time.
What a difference a year makes.
A year ago, Roy walked on water. He was the consummate politician, the public relations dream, and the inspiration to literally millions. In short, he was a localized version of Barack Obama.
But like Obama, he has been knocked off his pedestal by his own supporters. Just as a certain segment of Democrats and former media supporters have turned on Obama, so have a certain segment of Blazer fans and local sports media turned on Brandon Roy. The parallels are downright eerie, and the more politically minded among you can flesh out that analogy for yourselves.
Last year, the usual terms used by media and fans to describe Brandon Roy were unselfish, determined, team oriented, hard-working, media savvy, and team leader. He was lauded for always thinking of his teammates first and for keeping the young Blazers free of any ego trips.
When local pundits considered possible trades, it was always with the implicit belief that Brandon would protect the team from any incoming chemistry issues with his leadership and his sheer charisma.
As recently as the 2009 preseason, local media types like the Oregonian's Jason Quick and John Canzano waxed eloquently about Roy's leadership qualities. Just look at Quick's profile of Roy from exactly one month ago.
Or how about this offering from award-winning columnist Canzano from this past July?
Canzano says that Roy deserves "the key to the franchise." It's stunning, therefore, to witness the turnaround in the perception of Roy by the Portland media and Blazers fans this early in the regular season.
So far, Roy is averaging 19.8 points on 45 percent shooting, while grabbing about 4.4 rebounds and dishing five assists per game. These numbers are slightly down from last season, but this is hardly surprising.
The Blazers have seen the return of starting small forward Martell Webster, the improvement of Greg Oden, and the addition of Andre Miller. Of course Roy's numbers are going to be down, because he hasn't had to carry the team every night like he did last season.
Tonight, Roy scored 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting in an easy win against the New Jersey Nets. With the victory Portland improved to 12-5, which happens to be the franchise's best start since 1999-2000.
Yet numerous emailers to the Blazers postgame show suggested Roy's overall performance this season, as well as his diminished stat line, reflects the fact that Roy has been playing "lazy" and is "merely going through the motions." Others called him overrated and have suggested his recent max contract has gone to his head. Such thoughts were unthinkable a year ago, or even a month ago.
Long-time Portland fans will remember the early 1990s, when the Blazers went from 39 wins to 59 and then 63 in consecutive seasons. During that stretch, Clyde Drexler's scoring average dropped from 27.2 in 1989 to 23.2 in 1990 and 21.5 in 1991.
That's a drop off of almost six ppg in two years, and it was almost entirely a result of the fact that Portland was so good that Clyde could sit out fourth quarter blowouts. Did people criticize Clyde for suddenly being lazy or for going through the motions? Absolutely not. He was praised for playing harder than ever while sacrificing his scoring for the good of the team.
So if Clyde, who will be the first to say he was never as polished or as professional a player as Brandon Roy, and who had a reputation as an unorthodox practice player at best and a coach killer at worst, was given the benefit of the doubt, why isn't Brandon Roy?
Various other emailers, bloggers, and sports radio callers in recent weeks have suggested that Brandon is on an ego trip; that he is responsible for sowing the seeds of division on the team; that he should defer to Andre Miller (!?), and even that he should be traded!
Whereas last year Roy was practically considered a saint in Portland, this year callers to local talk shows are suddenly reporting that he has been a jerk all along. Apparently, he refuses to sign autographs after games; he undermines other players; and, perhaps worst of all, he is patently un-American, since he refuses to stand with the team during the National Anthem.
In short, Brandon Roy has become a villain.
The media has fed the frenzy. Jason Quick, just weeks after posting his article praising Roy's leadership, has used local radio spots as a forum for hinting that Roy has been "uncomfortable" with Andre Miller, has adjusted poorly to handing over the reigns of the starting lineup, and basically pulled rank to get Miller relegated to the second unit once again. He has repeatedly used the word "troubling" to describe Roy's attitude.
And here is John Canzano's column from yesterday.
Apparently, Canzano's conviction that Roy should be given anything he asks for, including "Paul Allen's underpants," lasted less than four months.
On his local radio show today, Canzano took his condemnation of Roy's decision to stand in the Rose Garden tunnel during National Anthem performances a step further, stating that the subtext of this practice is a message to his teammates that he is above them, and that Roy is a selfish prima donna.
Brandon Roy is at least the third greatest player the Blazers have ever had. He is unquestionably the greatest team leader in franchise history. He has done nothing to deserve any of this, other than work on adjusting his game to the changing needs of his team.
Are the Blazers better off when Roy is in a rhythm and has the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter? Absolutely. Does Brandon know this? Of course. Does this make him an egotist? Absolutely not.
Why should we hold this against him? Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird never hid the fact that they were franchise players, especially from their own teammates. Nobody ever criticized them for this.
Clyde Drexler once said that he'd rather miss the last shot at the end of the game than have anyone else take the shot, because he felt the team had a better chance to win with the ball in his hands. And he was absolutely right. Nobody blasted Clyde for saying that.
So why this change in attitude? I have no answer, other than the fickle nature of the media cycle, and the seemingly instinctive need for certain people to knock their heroes off their pedestals.
But in my opinion, when Blazer fans and perhaps especially media types think back to the days of Bonzi Wells, Darius Miles, and Rasheed Wallace, they should be slapping themselves with sheer glee that Roy is a Blazer, and that they have the privilege of watching and/or covering him.
You've never heard Brandon Roy say, "We don't care what the fans think." You've never heard Roy call his coach an "Uncle Tom" and throw racial epithets at him. You've never seen Roy sit on press row night after nauseating night and repeat, "It was a good game. Both teams played hard."
You have heard him say that he truly cares about his teammates, and that he puts the needs of the team ahead of himself. Sometimes, as uncouth as it may seem to some, the team needs him to be an All-Star, and to pull rank.
You would think Blazer fans and media, of all people, would know a good thing when they see it. Shame on them.