As Damian Lillard cut around the curiously mis-positioned defenders, clapping towards his inbounder, the ball finally sticking to his mitts for but a split second before he launched it towards history, images of the ghost of Brandon Roy were immediately evoked.
There is so much of Roy in Lillard that it is almost too much. Like Roy, Lillard was picked 6th in his draft despite the consensus being that 6th is too low, sliding down boards for reasons orthogonal to his on-court impact. For Lillard, it was the obscurity of Weber State, the stage upon which he plied his trade raising questions of adaptability, and his relatively old age for an incoming rookie. Roy had those knees. Those damn knees.
Like Roy, Lillard took the league by storm, an offensive savant in a hotbed of struggling guard play. Their styles are different, Roy’s meticulous and skillful hunt for nooks and crannies in the defense through which to explode standing opposite Lillard’s brash and unapologetic long range onslaughts that open up his own lanes, but the poise with which they seek their goal might as well be clones of a single image.
And then, Houston. With 0.9 seconds left on the clock, Damian Lillard didn’t look for a shot as much as he looked for a tribute. Amid the same crowd, against the same opponent, an almost identical scoreboard looming ominously in the background, Lillard broke free and headed immediately for the left wing. For Brandon’s wing. For Brandon’s shot.
As Mike Tirico so succintly and gleefully exclaimed, “good!”.
If the Portland Trail Blazers were a work of fiction, the writer would be rightfully chastised. Such laziness. Such an obvious device. Such shameless literary framing. Such blatant and unabashed knowledge of his audience’s collective memories and pain. What good will this do, reminding us of Brandon Roy’s Once to exacerbate Damian Lillard’s Now?
But back in reality, the moment hit so close to home. It was impossible to watch Number Zero rise without seeing Number Seven rise with him. So many careers are cut short for bad reasons, so many voids in our fandom are left pulsating and bare, and so seldom are we rewarded karmatically.
As Damian Lillard broke from the pack, demanding the ball that was rightfully his and fully prepared to repay the city that had given it to him, karma conceded and we cashed out. As a series devolved from Blazer control to utter chaos, as Damian Lillard buried Houston with Brandon Roy’s shot, there was, if not justice, peace.