The Theater at Madison Square Garden was where the best American amateur and foreign basketball players in the world arrived each June and departed as very rich men. By invitation only, fifteen lucky prospects were summoned to New York, booked into a fancy hotel in Times Square paid for by the league, and permitted to experience the annual NBA Draft firsthand. A sudden lifestyle transformation took place when the commissioner, David Stern, strode to the center podium, leaned into a microphone, and authoritatively called out someone’s name. Brandon Roy found out how this feels.
In 2006, Roy was one of the handpicked prospects brought to the “Big Apple” by the NBA and treated to a night that resembled a basketball Disneyland. The theater’s front stage, where all of the talent dispersal took place, was dressed up in an elaborate hoop theme. Backboards with rims and nets were fastened to the wall on each side of a centrally located draft board, one that held thirty first-round slots neatly arranged in five rows awaiting names to be inserted. Two metal storage racks on wheels were filled with authentic league basketballs and parked beneath the baskets. The floor was imitation parquet and detailed with white court striping. A circular wooden canopy provided a roof over all of these carefully positioned props.
Left of the stage, ESPN had a makeshift studio set up to provide a live broadcast. Five rows of media seating were stationed directly in front. Private tables reserved for the players and their families were located to the right. It was enough to make even the coolest player under pressure take a few gulps and feel slightly overwhelmed.
Fifty minutes before ESPN’s nationally televised coverage went live, Roy and the others walked out a back door and onto the stage, all dressed as if attending an executive board meeting, each trying to act casual, but privately churning inside. Garfield High School’s soon-to-be-first NBA player wore an elegant black suit with champagne pinstripes, yellow shirt, multicolored tie, handkerchief in his left breast pocket, and clearly a nervous look on his face. The players lined up in two rows for the traditional group photo. Roy stood in the front row, next to Adam Morrison, the high-scoring Gonzaga University forward and fellow Northwest native.
See you in June, Morrison had wisecracked to Roy seven months earlier in Seattle in the middle of their last collegiate game together. This proved to be an insightful greeting for the long-haired scorer from Spokane, though it tipped off his NBA early-entry draft ambitions when the comment was repeated by Roy later to reporters. Everyone now waited several moments for Stern to join them. As he walked up, the commissioner playfully tossed a ball to Morrison. A man stood on a ladder and snapped off several images, and they were done.
Roy made his way to a table set aside for him, sat down alone, and placed a cell phone call. He got up and wandered into a buffet area provided for the players and out of view, more interested in walking off nervous energy than eating. Fifteen minutes later, he was anxiously pacing around the players’ cordoned-off seating section, again talking on his phone. Morrison, a diabetic who needed to keep his blood sugar levels under control at all times, sat nearby nibbling on a snack and drinking from a water bottle, also looking frazzled and a little impatient.
Once the players’ families were bused over from the hotel and escorted into the theater, a reassuring moment for every player involved, Roy took a seat. This was the one time in their lives that none of these self-assured athletes wanted to be alone. New York’s boisterous basketball fans turned up the intensity by noisily entering the building and filling up the seats behind the VIP and press sections.
Sharing Roy’s table were his parents, Tony and Gina Roy; his older brother, Ed Roy; his high school sweetheart and soon to become fiancée, Tiana Bardwell; and his sports agent, Bob Myers. Roy had more supporters seated together elsewhere in the theater, a group that included his grandmother, Frances Roy; his sister, Jaamela Roy, and her former husband, Deandre; his best friends, Cole Allen and Lardel Sims; his cousins, Marvin Hall and Saeed Hammond; his AAU basketball coach, Lou Hobson; and his attorney friend, Rich Padden.
“I still think about the NBA draft, sitting at that table,” said Roy’s brother, Ed. “My eyes were so big.”
Back home on Beacon Hill, Roy’s aunts and uncles hosted a raucous neighborhood party at his grandmother’s house. This gathering drew just about everyone else who had a deep-rooted connection to Brandon Roy and didn’t travel with him to New York. Seattle newspaper reporters and TV camera crews who had covered him as a collegiate player also showed up at this address, looking for another story. Even with the man of the hour awaiting his basketball fate some three thousand miles away, this was a party worth attending.
“It was all neighbors, people who grew up with Brandon, people who knew him, and they came over to watch the draft,” his aunt Renee Roy said. “There were cars everywhere. That day this street was rocking.”
After a half hour of ESPN commentary and preliminary interviews in the TV booth, filler that involved Morrison, but not Roy, it was draft time at Madison Square Garden. In anticipation of the top overall pick, theater fans loudly chanted Roy’s name. This was surprising because the Huskies guard was never mentioned as the top guy in any of the mock drafts compiled on the Internet, ESPN, or anywhere else. Roy more often was pegged between the fifth and tenth selections on the lists that rated him the highest. He had been informed that the best big men always went first in the draft; the competitor in him still wanted to know why.
Teams privately registered concern over Roy’s surgically repaired right knee and said he didn’t appear as athletic as before. Others said he hadn’t defined himself as a playmaker or shooting guard, and failed to see the advantage of having that type of multipurpose player. The Atlanta Hawks, holding the fifth pick, concluded they were overstocked at the two-guard position and in their pre-draft meetings had decided to pass on the Washington player.
“They were all talking that I couldn’t be No. 1,” Roy said, as confident as ever in his basketball abilities and similarly indignant. “I thought, ‘Why aren’t they talking about me?’ They said, ‘He’s a good player, but he’s not a franchise guy.’ I said, ‘We’ll see.’ ”
Moments later, Italy’s six-foot-eleven Andrea Bargnani was the first player taken in the draft, going to the Toronto Raptors. It was hard to distinguish the Madison Square Garden cheers from the jeers. “Who’s he?” was a common refrain. The University of Texas’s LaMarcus Aldridge, another tall guy, went next to Chicago.
He was a more recognizable basketball commodity and received a better reception. The Garden fans once more loudly chanted Roy’s name, demonstrating their persistent draft preference. No other lottery pick received such favorable treatment inside the raucous theater. It took a half hour to get through those first five selections: Charlotte settled on Morrison with the third choice, Portland chose Louisiana State University’s Tyrus Thomas, and Atlanta picked up Duke University’s Shelden Williams.
Attempting to turn around a franchise that had fallen on hard times, the Hawks even had insider knowledge on Roy. Former University of Washington head coach Bob Bender now was an assistant coach on Mike Woodson’s Atlanta staff and still a big fan of the Seattle basketball player he had once recruited. He offered everything he knew to the Hawks. The team still couldn’t take advantage.
“Our guys liked him but they said, ‘What position?’ ” Bender said. “I thought, ‘That’s the beauty of Brandon Roy. You don’t pigeonhole him.’ ”
At this point, Stern announced that Chicago’s newly acquired Aldridge had been traded, with a second-round draft pick, to Portland, for veteran forward Viktor Khryapa and the recently drafted Tyrus Thomas. This was only the beginning of the Trail Blazers’ elaborate draft-day dealings. This was all part of a master plan that included Roy and would be executed flawlessly.
The ESPN studio offered piped-in sound so those in the theater could hear the on-air banter that was directed to the people watching at home. Chatterbox analyst Dick Vitale described Gonzaga’s Morrison as the player in the draft most ready to play right away at the pro level, an assessment from the former Detroit Pistons coach and self-made TV media star that couldn’t have been more inaccurate. Roy admittedly was never a big fan of Vitale’s, turned off because he felt the bombastic ESPN college basketball personality had failed to properly do his homework on the Washington player’s game. This was an interesting turnabout, with the once grade-challenged Roy getting on someone else for not studying enough.
“I got the label that he doesn’t do one thing great, he just does a lot of things good, and I thought that’s what makes me a great player,” Roy said. “I always felt underappreciated and overlooked. If Dick Vitale had watched me in college, he would have liked me, but he didn’t know me. A lot of people slept on me. A lot of people didn’t like my talent.”
“I didn’t know him,” fellow lottery pick Tyrus Thomas acknowledged.
At 8:07 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Roy’s turn had come. Stern read out loud that Minnesota had picked him. The pro-Roy theater crowd cheered loudly. Roy stood up, hugged everybody at his table, and with a huge smile pulled on a light blue Timberwolves cap and headed for the stage.
After shaking hands with Stern at the podium but curiously finding the NBA commissioner not very chatty at all, Roy was ushered to a backstage area at Madison Square Garden set up for nonstop TV interviews. A special credential was required for anyone else to gain entry to this behind-the-scenes electronic draft central. Every leading news organization had a broadcast pod set up: ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN, TBS, and Fox. Drafted players quickly moved from station to station, slipping into a waiting chair, inserting an earplug and bantering with an agreeable TV reporter. It was a frenetic exercise.
Roy sat down with Seattle-based Brian Davis of Fox Sports Net, someone he had known for a long time, and the two started discussing Minnesota, a team that had shown noticeable pre-draft interest in the UW player. Roy seemed satisfied with the Midwest direction in which his basketball career was now headed. Then-Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey was no stranger, previously having worked as a Sonics assistant coach, and he and Roy had huddled together for an extensive pre-draft workout.
“It’s going to be great, because I’ve known Dwane Casey for a while,” Roy said in his interview, still looking a little flushed. “I just felt comfortable talking to him. We talked about my high school days. He’s a teacher and I’m a student of the game. I knew when he first got the job, it was great for him. He did a great job for Nate McMillan (in Seattle). We just really clicked.”
Roy let out a deep breath when asked about playing alongside Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, then the cornerstone player of the Minnesota franchise. One of the impressive things about Roy was that while handing out nonstop compliments and pulling stuff off the top of his head, he always had something interesting to say. Being genuine always worked for him.
“He’s a superstar in the NBA, and I grew up watching him,” Roy said of Garnett. “I know if I can help him out, he can carry the team to great heights. I’m just happy to be part of it. He brings it every night. I’ll be happy to first get over meeting him. Once I get over the thrill of meeting him, it will be great to play with him. I don’t know what the NBA is all about, but I know if I work hard, I’ll make an impact. I’m just happy this is over.”
Yet Roy’s draft night had not played itself out. Not even close. In mid-answer to a Davis question, he was interrupted by me, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter covering Roy’s NBA draft experience, and informed he had been traded elsewhere. That made the Fox Sports TV interview geared for a Northwest audience suddenly moot and useless, and it came to a stop. The camera and audio momentarily were turned off. Roy was swapped for Villanova University’s Randy Foye, who had been drafted one spot behind Roy by the Boston Celtics, and then moved in a multiplayer deal to Portland, before going to the Timberwolves in exchange for Roy. Whew.
Following Roy around in an effort to document all of his draft-night actions at Madison Square Garden, I simply had spotted a bulletin of the trade from ESPN’s coverage roll across the bottom of a nearby TV screen and passed along the information. Usually this sort of breaking news comes to a player from a front-office executive, but things were happening too fast in New York for any protocol.
“Portland?” Roy said, looking a little dazed and reflexively removing the Timberwolves cap from his head. “I knew it. I thought that was going to happen when I went up to meet the commissioner and he didn’t say anything. Now I’m back on the West Coast, and my parents have to drive only three hours to go to my games. I’m a family man.”
Roy then paused for a moment, before asking innocently and to no one in particular, “Does that mean I have to do my media all over?”
Behind the scenes, Portland had worked all day in putting together deals for Aldridge and Roy and had pulled this off. The Trail Blazers entered draft day with the fourth, thirtieth, and thirty-first picks, which weren’t going to land them two premium players. They had to trade up, and they likely had to trade up twice. Aldridge was the first priority because he was a talented big man and wouldn’t last if Roy went first. The Blazers needed to lock in a deal for the Texas player before working on the second transaction involving the Washington guard. The Roy trade wasn’t finalized until an hour before Portland made its first-round pick. Now everything had to go as planned, or one or both deals would be aborted.
These carefully negotiated transactions were contingent on the desired players getting drafted in a projected order and remaining available. There was no guarantee all of this would go down as envisioned. Aldridge seemed a fairly safe bet to stay in the second slot, because Toronto was openly committed to taking Bargnani. Yet there was great concern Roy wouldn’t last until the sixth position. Other teams attempted to do what the Blazers had done – move up the draft ladder and land a promising, possibly underrated, shooting guard.
“We knew there was one team hunting and pecking to get up there as hard as they could to get him,” Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said. “Houston was dying to get up there and get him. I didn’t know if we were going to get that trade.”
The Rockets, who owned the eighth pick of the draft, told Roy how much they liked him, but ultimately put together a different deal involving University of Connecticut forward Rudy Gay. It was a figurative elbow this time, but not a lasting blow. Houston next shipped Gay and veteran forward Stromile Swift to the Memphis Grizzlies for centerpiece forward Shane Battier. Foye, the seventh choice taken between Roy and Gay by the Boston Celtics, was acquired by the Trail Blazers in yet another prearranged deal, with the idea all along of moving him for Roy’s playing rights. How all of this fell into place without added complication and consternation was simply Portland’s good fortune.
The Trail Blazers knew all about draft-day disasters. In 1984, a month before Roy was born, Portland spent the second overall pick on University of Kentucky center Sam Bowie, who not only wasn’t a franchise savior, but whose presence effectively blinded the Blazers from zeroing in on a much bigger prize that was available: in choosing Bowie, the Blazers passed on a promising University of North Carolina guard named Michael Jordan (he went third to Chicago), whose ultimate contributions to the game of basketball need no explanation. Portland’s acquisition of Brandon Roy helped offset that colossal draft blunder a little.
“As soon as [number] five went, there was a huge collective sigh in the building,” Pritchard said of learning that Shelden Williams was Atlanta’s top selection. “There were definitely a lot of high-fives as soon as we knew we had Brandon.”
While overjoyed to stay in the Northwest, Roy later admitted to having mixed feelings about his final destination because the Trail Blazers had acquired Aldridge ahead of him. He wasn’t jealous or anything. Yet rather than go to an NBA team as its No. 1 selection, as he had fully expected, Roy briefly felt like a supplementary pick, almost as if he were a second-round selection. His ego took a momentary beating before he warmed to the idea of coming to Portland in an impressive package deal.
“I talked to my agent and he said, ‘You can’t feel that way. You have to make them think you’re No.1,’ ” he recalled.
Quickly gathering himself and redoing the Fox Sports interview, Roy talked about his ready-made Portland connections, of how McMillan would push him to become a better player, of how he and Blazers swingman Martell Webster were Seattle natives who knew each other well and were always meant to play together. He rightfully was more excited about playing in Portland and having the chance to stay in the Northwest, than moving to Minnesota, which was so far removed from his family.
Sitting in a TV interview chair, Roy was asked by Sports Illustrated reporter Luke Winn how he had learned about the trade. “The Seattle P-I broke the story,” Roy wisecracked with a smile, nodding to me standing nearby.
Roy was drafted and traded in just thirty-seven minutes. It was a wonder he could concentrate at all and do these rapid-fire interviews. At least he wasn’t Randy Foye. The Big East guard was the property of three NBA teams in far less time. Foye walked away with the most impressive draft-night hat collection among his peers.
As Roy maneuvered his way through this back bunker of TV cameras, he ran squarely into Gay, the Connecticut forward with whom he had briefly scuffled in his final college game three months earlier. The players hugged each other. They shared a few pre-draft workouts together, so this wasn’t a first-time greeting since their double technical foul. By now, all was forgotten from that overheated moment in the NCAA Tournament. “I got traded,” Roy told him. As he continued down the busy hallway, the former Washington player allowed himself a moment to reflect about Gay and their controversial postseason play and the ramifications. “We probably would have been in the Final Four if that hadn’t happened,” Roy said in a wistful manner. “We’re friends now. Once you meet the guy, you like him.”
Leaving the makeshift TV community behind, Roy went around a corner and plopped down in a dark interview area set aside for the print journalists covering the draft. Before taking the first question, an NBA official seated next to Roy barked at him to put on his team hat, which apparently was standard marketing protocol for this moment. “I got traded,” the player said once more, this time with a shrug.
Once this media exchange was started, Roy was asked about the marketing advantages of a Northwest player joining the Portland franchise. His inquisitor apparently was unaware of the intense and often hostile college rivalry between the bordering states that made this situation a little more complicated than it might have appeared on the surface. Roy briefed him with a short yet poignant response that offered a Northwest olive branch.
“I played a lot of games in Oregon, and hopefully they won’t boo me too bad, and they’ll grow to like me,” he said.
Roy took a few more questions. He felt good about the draft. He was an NBA player now, and recognized it was a much tougher game to play. He talked about living up to everyone’s expectations, including his own. He got up and went looking for his family entourage.
Nearly an hour after Roy’s name had first been called, Stern stepped to the podium and announced the player’s trade to Portland. This news drew a mixed response from the now-subdued theater crowd, mainly because it wasn’t breaking news. Clearly it wasn’t something just making the rounds in the VIP section, either – Roy’s family members already clutched Trail Blazers hats while waiting for him.
“I thought somehow I’d be in Portland,” Roy concluded as he left the press area, still holding the Timberwolves cap. “I wonder if I can keep this hat?”
As the draft activities started to wind down, Roy and his family left Madison Square Garden, climbed into a couple of limousines, and drove off to celebrate at a Manhattan restaurant. Roy and his entourage, which briefly included Aldridge, next visited entertainer Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club, an upscale sports bar and lounge on West Twenty-Fifth Street. Roy sat in a VIP section, too weary to do anything but watch everyone else intermingle. His sister cut and handed him a piece of strawberry cake, his one big indulgence for this life-changing moment in New York. Everybody was giddy in his group. The second son overnight had become an NBA player and a multimillionaire, automatically receiving a contract deal worth $5.4 million over two years, with a two-year option. He had picked up a talented big man in Aldridge for a teammate, though they would need more time to get better acquainted.
“I didn’t really know Brandon,” Aldridge said. “I was in the South and he was in the Northwest. I just knew of him.”
The following morning, Roy’s family members grabbed an extra-early flight for home, a trip that required a stop in San Francisco. Everyone was totally exhausted by the time they reached the Northwest. With just two hours of sleep, Tony and Gina Roy talked of getting back to their West Seattle rental unit and taking showers. The city was hot and sweaty when they landed. However, their long, transcontinental journey had taken them from the NBA good life and brought them back to harsh hometown reality.
When the Roys pulled up, the front door to their home was disturbingly cracked open. Someone had broken in and helped themselves to their belongings. A TV, computer, and some cash were missing. Tony Roy found one of two new suits that Brandon had purchased for him discarded in the backyard. The bedroom was ransacked. Another TV was moved but not taken. A side window was broken. Luckily, Brandon’s basketball keepsakes were safely tucked away at his grandmother’s home, which was protected at all times by an alarm system, not to mention the nonstop family and friends congregating.
Feeling violated by this intrusion of their thirteen-year rental home and still badly in need of a shower, the Roys booked a local hotel room for the night. They suspected a neighbor with a known drug problem had burglarized their place, someone fully aware the house was occupied by the family of aspiring NBA player Brandon Roy, and that everyone had gone to New York. They didn’t wait around to find out. “We never went back,” Gina Roy said.
Brandon heard about the Delridge break-in much later. That morning, he was headed to Portland. He was scheduled to leave on an earlier flight than his Seattle-bound family members. After exiting the 40/40 Club, he said good-bye to everyone, grabbed his travel bag, and took a car service to the airport, instantly falling asleep in the backseat on the way. The driver had to wake him when they reached the drop-off area.
It was 4 a.m. and the John F. Kennedy International Airport gates were still locked. Once inside, Roy saw Aldridge checking in and heading to Portland, but traveling on a different airline. The overly fatigued Roy fell asleep once more, sprawled over a couple of airport seats, after learning his flight was delayed. Somehow he woke up and made it to Oregon. He endured two days of media interviews and meetings with Trail Blazers personnel in his new NBA city before he flew back to Seattle. Roy, with arms crossed, and Aldridge, holding a ball in his left hand, were posed together for a Portland Oregonian newspaper advertisement that read: “Meet the lottery picks everybody’s talking about.”
Roy was exhausted, but his dream, the one he had shared in the fifth grade with Nate Robinson, the one that proved tempting but unattainable while finishing up the twelfth grade, and the one that needed to be rescheduled when he suffered his knee injury as a Washington junior, had finally come true. He was a full-fledged pro basketball player.
“I would sit in class and hear that one in a million kids play in the NBA,” Roy said. “Now I’m that one in a million.”.
Excerpted from The Brandon Roy Story by Dan Raley. Copyright © 2015 by Dan Raley. Raley is a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports writer (1980-2009) and Atlanta Journal-Constitution story editor (2010-2012). He’s now a magazine writer for Boeing.