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A night for Roy, Blazer fans to remember

I felt conflicted emotions as I watched Brandon Dawayne Roy take his first public bow as a former Trail Blazer Saturday night at the Rose Garden.

It won't be the last. Some day in the next couple of years, Roy and his family will return to see his No. 7 retired and hung in the rafters alongside those of Clyde Drexler, Bill Walton and the rest.

Last season, after taking a medical retirement and being amnestied by the Blazers, Roy and wife Tiana slipped into courtside seats well after tipoff and watched a quarter of one game. Some fans noticed the couple, but most of the crowd didn't. When the Roys exited the seats at halftime, they never returned.

So it was nice to see Brandon get a well-deserved -- though not overwhelming -- standing ovation as the JumboTron focused on him by the Minnesota bench during the first timeout Saturday in Portland's 109-94 win over the Timberwolves.

Roy, rehabbing from his latest knee surgery, waved and flashed the bashful smile that so endeared him to the public during his five brilliant seasons in a Blazer uniform. After the game, he told CSN Northwest's Chris Haynes he was "completely shocked" at the reception, but don't let Roy fool you. He absolutely knew it was coming.

The "aw shucks" attitude has worked well for Roy. His modesty is becoming, and I'm not suggesting he's a phony. But he has always been savvy about what plays well with the public and the media. Just don't take it as naiveté.

Roy seemed genuinely pleased to see the faces of old friends, colleagues and media types as he strolled through the Garden halls before the game. "Hero" is an overused word is sports vernacular, but Roy -- with his stellar play, late-game heroics, understated leadership and engaging persona -- qualified during his too-short run as the face of the Blazer franchise.

That's the sad part. At 28, after too many knee surgeries to count (I believe it's seven), Roy's NBA time is passed. All the platelet-rich plasma treatments in Medical Nirvana are not going to restore life to the bone-on-bone condition Roy's knees have reached -- at least the condition necessary to get through a rigid NBA season.

After sitting out a year -- not playing in games can make aching knees feel better -- Roy felt buoyed enough to give it another try in Minnesota. And who can blame him, especially since the Timberwolves were willing to pay him $5.1 million for this season, and if things went well, another $5.3 million next season?

"I'm still young," Roy told reporters prior to the game. "If I was to stop playing basketball, I don't know exactly what I'd go into right away.

"Why not? I still love to show up and practice and work out. When the time comes to stop playing … I'll know when that time comes."

The latest comeback lasted five games before the body broke down again in November.

Another surgery. More rehab. And now Roy's knees are feeling better again, and he said Saturday night he is getting closer to a return to practice. How close, I asked. Maybe a week or two?

"I'm closer to practicing than a week," he offered. "Maybe it's a week or two before I start playing games again."

I ran that by Minnesota coach Rick Adelman, who responded with a "if only" look.

"We'll see how he does if he returns to practice," Adelman said. "We could certainly use him. We thought he was going to be our starting shooting guard this season."

If the Wolves really thought that, they were kidding themselves.

A best-case scenario would have been a limited role, with careful adherence to a training program that would allow Roy play 50 to 60 games. Even that was a pipe dream.

I told Roy it was great to see him, but I really wished he could have been in uniform playing.

"Man, me, too," he said.

For his book "NBA List Jam," Pat Williams asked for my top 10 personalities in Trail Blazer history. I placed Roy ninth, and third among players behind only Drexler and Walton.

That was the kind of impact the three-time All-Star had around Rip City. In lockstep with LaMarcus Aldridge, he led the team out of the Jail Blazer era, past the worst record in the league the year before he arrived, and did more than anyone to rekindle Blazermania.

The Roys have, for now, retained their West Linn house. The drive there Friday, Brandon said, "brought back a lot of memories after going home from some special nights here in the Rose Garden."

"I have so many memories from my first season until my last," he said. "I forget things that people remind me about. That's what you want when you come into this league, great memories. I have a lot of them, especially in this building."

So do Blazer fans. Thanks to bad luck, and bad knees, those will become more distant as time flies by.

There's a sad part to that, too. Time waits for no one, even someone as young as Brandon Roy.

For now, Roy puts on a brave face, reflecting optimism that a return to the court is imminent.

"I made the commitment at the beginning of the year that I'll stick with this season no matter what," he said. "And at the end of the year, let's reflect on things, and do I want to continue to go on forward. I'm not going to make that decision now."

No, but it's coming.

I'm hoping at some point, Brandon comes to peace with that. That he and Tiana enjoy raising their two young children together. That he can find something to satisfy the competitive craving that renders so many of our great athletes unfulfilled.

The adulation will remain. Roy will always have a place in the sports fan's heart, especially those who bleed Blazer red and black.

Just the way it was Saturday night at the Rose Garden. The way it ought to be.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers