Brandon Roy has never met Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball. But the former Portland Trail Blazers’ All-Star guard has followed Ball’s career.
“I’ve watched him over his career since high school in Chino Hills [Calif.] And I know him and his brother [LaMelo], they’re just fans of basketball and getting after it and just being competitive. You can tell by watching them play,” Roy said in a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. “That’s the hardest part.”
That empathy Roy offered to Ball is earned. While Roy, 38, obviously doesn’t know how Ball’s latest attempt to resuscitate his career will turn out, Roy does know what it’s like to have the game of basketball taken away prematurely because of injuries.
Ball, 25, hasn’t played in the NBA since January 2022 and underwent a cartilage transplant in March, his third left knee surgery in 14 months and a rare procedure for a professional athlete.
Roy, who earned three All-Star and two All-NBA berths in his first four seasons in the league, first retired in 2011 at age 27 because of degenerative knees that left him no cartilage to cushion the wear and tear of the game. A brief, five-game comeback attempt with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012 ended with another surgery.
“If I was to talk to him, the advice I would give him is focus on yourself right now. Get healthy,” Roy said last week in Chicago after representing the Trail Blazers at the NBA Draft Lottery. “You always want to think about your next five, 10 years. But right now, don’t feel rushed to do that.
“He still has time. He can get healthy. He can still figure out a niche. Maybe it’s not as many minutes. Maybe it’s not the role he expected. But continue to love the game as much as you can right now at this age and this space he’s in in his life. And don’t think too much about the future. Think about the now and trying to get better and trying to get on the court.”
Like Ball, Roy played with a selfless competitiveness that impacted winning. Asked if the mental or physical toll is greater during rehabilitation as he tried to save his career, Roy paused.
“Man, they’re pretty even,” he said. “There are some days where physically, you may feel like you’re doing better. But mentally, it may not be fast enough because there’s pressure from the outside world or just the internal pressure we have from wanting to get out there and play for our teammates.
“I hated being in the locker room hurt and being maybe the missing piece to our team being better. So the mental hurdle is definitely real. Physically, we can play through pain. But mentally not being available and not being there for guys is really hard.”
Roy has found purpose in and pleasure from becoming a successful high school basketball coach in his native Seattle, where he’s close friends with former Bull Jamal Crawford, among other NBA players. Roy coached Denver Nuggets starter Michael Porter Jr., who’s about to play in his first NBA Finals.
“It’s been great. Winning, losing, I’m a part of the game again,” Roy said. “I gave the game all I had as a player. If I could tell a young kid anything, it’s give it all you got. And don’t feel rushed by anybody. If you love it, stay with it. Lonzo will know if and when it feels like it’s over. But I don’t feel like it’s anywhere near over yet.”
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