It was a nice moment, a powerful moment, and yet it raised some philosophical questions.
You know, questions about expectations, and questions about demands, and questions about the acceptance of mediocrity.
Brandon Roy returned to the Rose Garden last week, as an injured member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Predictably — and properly — Roy received a rousing ovation from Blazer fans; he was, after all, the savior of the franchise at one point.
Yet Roy’s presence presented a quandary about his legacy in Portland, and that quandary brings up a quandary about the entire culture that surrounds the Blazers.
Portland, you see, at some point will have to ponder whether to retire the No. 7 that Roy wore during his time with the club. And therein lies the problem.
Sure, Roy was a three-time All-Star in Portland. Yes, he delivered some of the most memorable moments in franchise history. Indeed, he was one of the most beloved players to don the Blazers’ uniform.
But Roy played only five seasons in Portland, and most of those were hampered by injuries. He never played for a team that won a playoff series. He appeared in fewer games and scored fewer points as a Blazer than Zach Randolph, even if he ranks higher than Randolph on the franchise lists for grace and class.
For a normal franchise, Roy would be given a standing ovation whenever he returns to the building, and that would be it. Maybe that and a gold watch. Maybe that and a gold watch and a Starbucks gift card and a pat on the back.
But the Blazers have established themselves as serial uniform retirers, and that creates a conundrum.
Portland has retired uniform numbers to honor the likes of Lloyd Neal and Larry Steele and Dave Twardzik. It has honored Lionel Hollins and Bob Gross. It has honored more players than the Los Angeles Lakers, who happen to have a little bit more history than the Blazers.
Given that standard, Roy should have his uniform retired and a statue erected in front of the Rose Garden.
Now, Lloyd Neal and Bob Gross and the others were fine players and, apparently, fine people. But in embracing such a tepid past in such a joyous fashion, I can’t help but think that the Blazers have institutionalized mediocrity.
Portland, after all, has lost 20 times in the first round of the playoffs, by far the most of any NBA team, and there is no better definition for mediocrity than that. You’re good enough to make the playoffs, but you’re so far removed from a championship that you can’t even see one on the horizon.
And it seems likely that these two issues affect one another. By honoring an entire roster of mediocrity in the rafters at the Rose Garden, the Blazers generate questions from every new player who joins the franchise and sees Dave Twardzik’s number hanging from the ceiling. Namely, “Who’s that?”
Let’s face it, Portland should have two retired numbers — No. 22 for Clyde Drexler, and No. 32 for Bill Walton.
One holds nearly every franchise record.
The other brought the city its only championship.
Given the established standards, Brandon Roy should have his number retired tomorrow by the Blazers. But the franchise would be better off if its standards were more stringent.