Thursday, January 12, 2012

Exploit of 2011: Brandon Roy Goes Supernova

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"
The Exploit of the Year is ultimately a celebration of the best story. To pick the greatest actual achievement would require accurately weighing the irreducibly complex, interrelated and opaque interplay of cause and effect; the combination of effort and error, tactics and techne, physics and physiques that actually determines a contest. Instead, we tell stories. And no story this year could touch Brandon Roy's fourth quarter evisceration of the Mavericks in game four of the Trail Blazers-Mavericks first round playoff series.

The bare fact of the comeback is enough to make it an Exploit contender: only one team has ever come back from a bigger deficit in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, after all. But what's most striking is just how single-handed it was. Really: with the exception of one Andre Miller 13-footer, Brandon Roy scored or assisted on literally every single point the Blazers scored in the fourth quarter. And who contested Terry's potential game-winner at the buzzer? For a straight half-hour, he fought in the face of overwhelming odds and a year of crumpled dreams1 and then, with the crowd worked to a fervid state of awe and gratitude and desperate, ecstatic yearning,2 iced a four-point play to tie the game. It was fucking effulgent and, even in the moment, the game-winning bank seemed a foregone conclusion.
1: So "despair" is a pretty huge reach in English, but the French term "desespoir", or "dis-hope", seems kind of a propos.
2: The Rose Garden is a place especially convinced of magical thinking, and not without reason. From the infancy of the franchise, the Blazers have had raucus crowds and outstanding home/away splits. The crowd believes deeply in the power of its heavy din to influence the game, to wear on opponents and buoy the Blazers through sheer faith and volume. The atmosphere affects the players' spirits, the thinking goes, which affects their effort, which affects the game. The feeling is not rational, but there's a grain of truth to it, and the amplified emotion of the crowd is contagious, even through a TV set.3
3: If you get the chance, watch a game there live. It will almost certainly be good; it might be a good deal better than that. I was lucky enough to see this game live-- I don't reckon I'll forget it anytime soon.
Game four was the last game Brandon Roy will ever win. He announced his retirement from professional basketball on December 10th, 2011. Like Coleridge's Kubla Khan, Roy's career is brilliant but incomplete, forever haunted by what is missing. The open questions leave a lot of room for myth, but they have certainly robbed him of money and glory, and possibly championships and a spot in the Hall of Fame. It is real and it is tragic. But for all that, it is beautiful, and it's a hell of a story. Maybe we should just let him have the last word:

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