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The Real Roy

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The Blazers’ Brandon Roy treasures his quiet time at home with his girlfriend Tiana Bardwell and 
his son, Brandon Jr. (STEVEN LANE/The Columbian)

The Blazers’ Brandon Roy treasures his quiet time at home with his girlfriend Tiana Bardwell and his son, Brandon Jr. (STEVEN LANE/The Columbian)

Roy is the focal point of the Blazers’ future and draws the attention of 
opposing defenders. But that didn’t seem likely to Roy as recently as three 
years ago. (TROY WAYRYNEN/The Columbian)

Roy is the focal point of the Blazers’ future and draws the attention of opposing defenders. But that didn’t seem likely to Roy as recently as three years ago. (TROY WAYRYNEN/The Columbian)

It sometimes bothers Roy that some people think stardom in the NBA came easily 
for the Garfield High and UW product. (TROY WAYRYNEN/The Columbian)

It sometimes bothers Roy that some people think stardom in the NBA came easily for the Garfield High and UW product. (TROY WAYRYNEN/The Columbian)

Brandon Roy says he doesn’t regret any of his struggles over the years because 
they shaped him into the person he is today. (STEVEN LANE/The Columbian)

Brandon Roy says he doesn’t regret any of his struggles over the years because they shaped him into the person he is today. (STEVEN LANE/The Columbian)

Shying away from the lifestyle of his NBA peers, Roy prefers instead to spend 
time at home with his girlfriend Tiana and his son, Brandon Jr. (STEVEN LANE/The 

Shying away from the lifestyle of his NBA peers, Roy prefers instead to spend time at home with his girlfriend Tiana and his son, Brandon Jr. (STEVEN LANE/The Columbian)

Sunday, December 09, 2007
BY BRIAN HENDRICKSON, Columbian staff writer

TUALATIN, Ore. - Brandon Roy is relaxed.

The Portland Trail Blazers star is slouched on a leather couch in his living room, watching a football game on his flat-screen television. His 8-month-old son, Brandon Jr., frolics on Roy's lap while a few family members and friends quietly stroll to and from the home.

The 3,200-square-foot rented house is silent and indistinct. There are no hallmarks of the accomplished person who lives there. Even Roy's cell phone will likely go unanswered today. But after years of scrambling to find this level of success - fighting for opportunity and recognition the whole way - it is these quiet moments away from the spotlight and pressure to perform that Roy grasps onto and cherishes.

"Sometimes the best days for me were, like, when everybody was gone," Roy says. "I'd go outside with the dogs, and I may water the grass. ... I would be walking around the neighborhood, walking my two dogs, chasing them down, pick blackberries ..."

Pick blackberries?

Brandon Roy? The NBA's Rookie of the Year? The guy who captured Portland's imagination last year and made the town forget about the team's on- and off-court struggles? The second-year player whose shoulders already bear the hopes of the franchise's future?

Picking blackberries?

A whole different world could be his - one of fame, followers, parties and lavished attention. But Roy shows no interest, preferring a quieter postgame life surrounded mostly by his family, longtime girlfriend, Tiana Bardwell, and Brandon, Jr.

Some would view it as an atypical life for a successful NBA player. But Roy is an atypical star who followed an atypical path to his success.

He was rarely viewed as a can't-miss NBA prospect. And just getting his shot at a pro career required constant perseverance - overcoming a learning disability; qualifying for college; then battling for recognition as a player.

Now that he is "B-Roy" - for whom success seems to come easily - he wonders if that defining path has been forgotten.

"Sometimes that bothers me," Roy said. "Nobody remembers that, not even just two years - almost three years now - that I wasn't even on the map. But now they look like, 'Roy's here. Roy gets here easy. Roy has everything.' But sometimes I'm sitting around and I'm like, people don't see the struggle."

A humble beginnging

Perhaps Roy's story has been largely forgotten because it was the type of tale that often goes unnoticed.

His was never a yarn about inner-city struggles and overcoming adversity. Nor was it about a kid whose talent was too immense to get overlooked.

Brandon's life was normal next to those Hollywood-type storylines. His father, Tony, drove a bus for the Seattle Metro line, often leaving for work at 5 a.m., returning home as late as 7 p.m., and picking up extra hours when possible to provide his family with a few luxuries.

Brandon's mother, Gina, was always close, working in the cafeteria of his elementary school, African American Academy, where she would often give lunches to children who couldn't afford it.

The Roys weren't rich, but were never left to want. During some periods the family of six would cram into two-bedroom apartments, or stay with their grandmother on Seattle's Beacon Hill. But Brandon never felt like anything was missing.

He was dealt a stern lesson, though, when Brandon started taking what the family did have for granted.

It happened during his early adolescence, when Brandon was playing AAU basketball for Seattle's Team Yes. Tony worked extra hours to supply Brandon and his brother, Ed, with basketball equipment and to provide Brandon with spending money for road games. To Brandon, the trips were ideal opportunities to be a kid - chances to hang out with friends and goof around.

But that feeling changed on one trip when Brandon was concentrating more on having fun than playing well. Coach Lou Hobson pulled him aside and scolded him.

"Do you understand that your parents are sending you on these trips with, like, 100 dollars?" Brandon said Hobson asked. "They don't have 100 dollars to send you on these trips to just come out here and mess around."

Brandon had never before considered how much or how little money his parents possessed. He always accepted what they offered without considering the extra hours worked or sacrifices made.

"From that moment on, every time I went on an AAU trip I went out there, like, let me make the most of my parents' money," Roy said. "But I didn't have it before then. I was thinking, 'I'm on these trips with all these kids.' I was just coming to have fun. I was approaching it like a kid. But when he told me that, it made me determined."

Brandon was regularly making all-tournament teams or winning MVP trophies from that point. And the extra effort put him on the verge of stardom by his junior year at Garfield High School. Recruiting letters started arriving from Cincinnati, Kansas and Arizona. Washington, Gonzaga and Oregon got serious, and Brandon was widely considered to be the state's best player.

But as Brandon would soon find out, success would rarely come to him that easily.

Make or break

Roy still remembers the moment vividly, even though it was nearly five years ago.

Jan. 16, 2003 - an ordinary cold and overcast winter day. But for Roy, the future was on the line. He sat in the players' lounge of the University of Washington's basketball locker room, watching TV and waiting nervously after hearing that his college eligibility would be decided that day.

He ran the gamut of emotions as he approached the end of a year-long gauntlet with his SAT scores. If they didn't come through this time, who knows where his future would take him? Junior college? A life outside basketball?

Brandon didn't want to think about the possibility.

He had already seen the pattern play out with his brother, Ed, a two-sport star who led Garfield to the state's basketball semifinals as a senior and developed into a top-100 football prospect after playing only one year. There was little Ed couldn't master on the athletic fields.

It was the SAT that escaped his grasp.

A learning disability made it difficult for Ed to pass the college entry exam, and eventually forced his attention away from major universities and toward junior colleges. There his career stalled, and within a couple years Ed had left athletics behind.

There were moments when Brandon wondered if he was destined for a similar ending.

"Is it all worth it?" Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar remembers Roy asking. "Is it meant for me to play in college?"

The discovery of Ed's learning disability led Brandon to be tested and diagnosed as well. And like Ed, Brandon's condition made tests like the SAT a significant hurdle. His reading comprehension was slow, increasing the time he required for tests. Where some people may read a question once, Brandon may have read it four or five times before properly understanding it. Time limits for tests sometimes expired before he finished, forcing him to rush through exams.

That challenge set Roy up for an emotionally wild ride through the college qualification process. His first SAT attempt produced an unsatisfactory score. So he tried again in May 2002, this time with the aid of tutors. But the NCAA clearinghouse tossed out that score just before fall classes were to begin because it had improved too much over the first attempt.

Roy faced a tough choice - head to junior college for two years, or take another shot at the SAT and enroll in January. Roy weighed his options, and decided he was not ready to give up.

He tried again in November.

That score was lost.

So it came down to a final exam on Dec. 7, 2002 - the last official test he could take. Fail this time, and Roy was bound for junior college.

The pressure weighed on him as Roy lived life with one foot in each world on which he teetered. He would rise in the early dawn darkness each morning, arrive at the Port of Seattle at 7 a.m. and start hosing out shipping containers that reeked of hell's sewage after carrying untold goods from the corners of the globe.

Roy would emerge from his $11-an-hour job covered in muck and freezing from the autumn chill and rain. Then he would sit down with filthy hands to eat the lunch he packed, hop back in his car - the aroma of his work leaping out whenever the door was opened - and drive off for tutoring.

But the dock workers kept Roy focused.

"Man, you go to college, make the most of that opportunity," Roy remembers his co-workers saying. "You don't want to be doing this your whole life."

It all came down to that January day, with Roy waiting in the players' lounge. He didn't know what to expect when word came that Romar wanted to meet in his office. His thoughts raced. Roy walked slowly to the room and saw Romar emerge, looking around as if lost in deep thought. Was he trying to decide how to break the bad news, Roy wondered?

"I'm trying to figure out if we can get you a uniform for tonight," Romar said.

Roy stopped. If Romar was trying to find him a uniform, then that could only mean ...

Roy hugged Romar. He thought of his parents, who never attended college. His mind turned to his brother, who never cleared this hurdle. Relief spilled off Roy's tired shoulders.

He had broken through.

But all the challenges had not been cleared.

A new challenge

For a player who would eventually win the NBA's Rookie of the Year award, Roy's college career started without considerable hype or fanfare.

He never got the attention of a LeBron James or Kevin Durant - players identified in their teen years as can't-miss stars. He wasn't even recognized as a first-round NBA prospect until his college career was close to an end.

Roy always wanted to be associated with the game's best players. But he was constantly fighting for that recognition and always remained one step outside the spotlight.

Perhaps it was easy for a casual observer to overlook Roy's talent. He was not a consistently dominant scorer or rebounder. His game was effective, but not flashy. He would fill up a stat sheet with points, rebounds and assists, but was never known to specialize in any specific area. He chose to involve his teammates, and not focus the game on himself.

"What Brandon does, sometimes it's real subtle," said Roy's high school coach, Wayne Floyd. "Sometimes it's the pass leading to the pass. Taking the charge. Not the glamorous stuff. He does a lot of things that, if you don't understand basketball, you won't see it."

Indeed, Roy often felt his abilities went overlooked even as Washington rose to prominence. He was among the Huskies' most productive players, yet teammates Nate Robinson and Tre Simmons were named to the all-conference teams while Roy settled for honorable mentions as a sophomore and junior.

Roy never begrudged his teammates of the honors they received. But deep inside the competitor in him yearned for similar recognition.

"Even our own fans - they thought he was good, but they were wondering, why wasn't he scoring big numbers and dominating games?" Romar said. "You've got to watch him. It comes so easily for him, it looks like he's not giving a lot of effort."

But Roy saw a fresh opportunity as his senior season approached.

Robinson and Martell Webster - Roy's current teammate who was at that time a Washington recruit - announced they would enter the 2005 NBA Draft. Roy also considered tossing his name in - he would have been a second-round pick, at best - but saw a shot to rise to the top after Robinson and Webster revealed their plans.

"When they both decided to enter the draft I said, 'Well, I'm going to stay.'" Roy said. "And I mostly did it to not only prove to people, but to prove to myself that I'm a bigger part of what's going on at Washington than you think.

"But it was also a chance. It was like sink or swim."

Those around him believe the decision led Roy's game to significantly mature. An offseason workout regimen put Roy in the best shape of his career, Romar said. He played with confidence, more assertiveness, and was increasingly comfortable as the team's focal point.

"People don't understand how good Brandon Roy is," Romar told reporters at the Pac-10's media day that fall.

But the world soon noticed.

Roy scored a career-high 35 points in the Huskies' Pac-10 opening win over Arizona State, and repeated that performance two nights later in a loss to Arizona. The basketball community began looking at Roy as a do-everything star.

The Seattle media described his season as "magical" and he challenged Gonzaga phenom Adam Morrison for recognition as the state's top player. By season's end, Roy was the Pac-10 Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and finalist for every major national individual award. His draft stock soared into the lottery.

Stardom had arrived.

"I was like, 'I've been chasing this feeling my whole life - finally, to be mentioned with the best,'" Roy said with a tone of relief. "For a moment there I was like, 'What do I do now?' Because that's what drove me."

A star sealed

Nearly two hours have passed since Roy started recalling his path to stardom. The Eddie Gottlieb Trophy, given to the NBA's Rookie of the Year, sits less than 10 feet away on a granite countertop in Roy's kitchen. Brandon Jr. plays on his dad's lap, playfully latching onto Roy's nose with his delicate hands.

Roy lets out an exasperated breath as he takes in all the memories.

"At the end of the day, I always see myself where I'm at now," Roy said. "Even when I wasn't there, I was like, 'I'm gonna get there.' You asked me, not getting the SAT score, what would it have been like going to junior college. And I never see it that way. ... I really go out and work. I do it to my max. And now I'm turning around after doing it to my max and going, 'Man, some things have really worked out for me.'"

Roy is finally to a point in his career where he can relax and not feel like he is chasing an ever-elusive dream. He is established. Respected. Admired. His persona is on billboards and promotional items. His game is praised by coaches, media and fans. The success he craved has come together with unexpected ease over the last two years.

But that success has not rattled Roy's perspective. He still holds the humility of a self-made superstar. Even when Roy made his one rookie splurge last year, purchasing a $70,000 Cadillac Escalade and a $30,000 Dodge Charger - a Gremlin by many players' standards - he fretted over selecting a red paint job for each vehicle.

"That's too flashy," Roy kept thinking.

That strong sense of his foundation has carried over into Roy's personal life, too. He has shied away from the lifestyle adopted by many of his peers - with lavish postgame meals and entertainment at clubs and bars - and kept his life centered around family.

Even after scoring a career-high 32 points in a win over Dallas last month - Portland's first win over the Mavericks in nearly four years - Roy blew off the possibilities of post-game celebrations with teammates and returned home. Bardwell cooked fried rice and egg rolls; Roy and his family watched ESPN's highlights of the game. And on one of his short career's pinnacle nights, Roy was in bed by 12:30 a.m.

It's a characteristic Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said the team appreciates. Roy defines substance, Pritchard said. And he defies what many people have come to expect from an NBA player.

But then, Roy has made a habit of defying expectations.

The learning disability. The SAT debacle. The recognition. Others may have given in to that adversity, or let it convince them that success was out of reach. But Roy saw each hurdle as a challenge. And when he is now asked how he remains humble with an inconspicuous ego, Roy points back to that largely overlooked path as the obvious answer.

"I've seen the other side," Roy said. "For some reason it's just something in me that just says, 'Don't quit.' When you have an opportunity, you have to take full advantage of it.

"If I had it to do over, I'd do it the same way. It's what makes me what I am."

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