Opinion: Thunder guard Andre Roberson's return is once again a possibility. If it happens, it will be unprecedented.
Devon Hall has spent a lot of time over the past week practicing alongside Andre Roberson.
Hall, signed as a substitute player by the Thunder before heading to the bubble in Orlando, has gotten an up-close-and-personal view of Roberson’s attempt to return to action. How he has looked. How he has performed. How he has acted.
“He’s got a smile on his face,” Hall reported after practice the other day. “He’s rolling. He’s getting his feet under him.
“Obviously, he had a lot of time off.”
Here’s how much time: Hall was still a senior at Virginia when Roberson was injured. Hall and the Cavaliers were a month from winning the ACC regular-season crown and almost two months from suffering the most shocking first-round upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament when Maryland-Baltimore County became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed.
Yes, it’s been that long since Andre Roberson last played an NBA game.
It was Jan. 27, 2018, when he landed during a game in Detroit and his left knee buckled. A ruptured patellar tendon would be surgically repaired, but over the next two-plus years, he’d go from rehabilitating to having a setback to needing another procedure to starting the process all over again.
The NBA has seen some gnarly injuries with lengthy recovery times. Kristaps Porzingis was out 623 days after an ACL tear. Shaun Livingston went 610 days between games after a gruesome knee injury.
- Related to this story
- Article: 'Very fine line': How Thunder is approaching practices leading up to NBA restart
- Article: OKC Thunder: One week in the bubble, very little drama
- Article: How NBA is using technology to help with health and safety protocols inside Orlando bubble
- Article: 'He's like a big kid': Thunder rookie Darius Bazley enjoying life in NBA bubble
- Article: OKC Thunder: Back to practice, Andre Roberson update and shooting more 3-pointers?
- Article: Thunder's schedule rank similar to what it was in March
- Article: 'Today is a sad day': Thunder guard Chris Paul mourns deaths of John Lewis, C.T. Vivian
- Article: OKC Thunder: Nerlens Noel tweaks ankle, Darius Bazley sees time at center
- Article: 'It’s gonna be an adjustment': Thunder's Abdel Nader has experience playing in empty arenas
- Article: OKC Thunder: Five takeaways from scrimmage against Celtics
- Article: OKC Thunder's Andre Roberson returns after 909-day absence to standing ovation, 'lot of emotions'
- Article: Tramel: Can OKC Thunder in the NBA bubble mimic success of Joe Gibbs' Washington teams?
- Article: OKC Thunder: Five takeaways from 76ers scrimmage
- Article: Carlson: Why OKC Thunder's Andre Roberson is the feel-good story we need right now
- Article: OKC Thunder vs. Trail Blazers scrimmage: Tip-off time and TV info
- Article: OKC Thunder: MLB coronavirus outbreak leaves questions for next NBA season
- Article: How long will it take for NBA teams to get in shape with the season restart looming?
- Article: OKC Thunder: Five takeaways from Trail Blazers scrimmage
- Article: COVID-19 has NBA wondering about long-term heart, lung problems for players
- Article: NBA commissioner Adam Silver 'anxious' but confident on eve of restart
- Article: No positive COVID-19 tests among NBA players for second consecutive week
- Article: Carlson: OKC Thunder and the NBA restart — 22 things you need to know
- Article: Much to consider when factoring in NBA bubble results
- Article: OKC Thunder: Mike Muscala to make donation for every team 3-pointer
- Article: Will the OKC Thunder's bench be a strength in NBA bubble?
- Article: Tramel: With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on superstar track, OKC Thunder should avoid total teardown
- Article: 'Helluva coincidence': OKC Thunder's season resumes just as it stopped — against the Utah Jazz
- Article: OKC Thunder vs. Utah Jazz: Tip-off time, how to watch, odds
- Article: OKC Thunder: Roster recap for NBA season restart
- Article: Quin Snyder reflects on suspended Thunder-Jazz game
- Article: Oklahoma lawmaker threatens OKC Thunder with tax penalties if players kneel during national anthem
- Article: OKC Thunder, Utah Jazz take knee during national anthem
- Article: OKC Thunder: Five takeaways from win against Jazz
- Article: Tramel: Attacking Rudy Gobert proved quite profitable for OKC Thunder
- Article: 'One game down, seven to go': OKC Thunder surges past Utah Jazz in NBA season restart
But if Roberson returns to play when the Thunder does, it will have been 917 days between games.
If Roberson returns to play, it will be the biggest story in the NBA.
There are lots of big stories right now, of course, but this would be something the likes of which has never been seen in professional sport. Any professional sport. We’re not just talking about basketball here.
Players routinely miss a season because of injury. Tear an ACL? Rehab is upwards of a year. Need Tommy John surgery? That’s a year, too.
But Roberson hasn’t played for 30 months.
Two and a half years.
“It’s been inspiring to see him out there,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I couldn’t be happier for him.
“He’s stayed the course. I’m sure for him that he’s had his moments of ups and downs more so than probably any of us can realize or imagine. But seeing him out there every single day has been really, really great.”
We’ve heard such positive reports before, of course. Before preseason camp began last fall, Thunder general manager Sam Presti said he was hopeful Roberson would play in the preseason. Donovan reported a few days later Roberson was entering training camp with no restrictions.
Less than a week later, Roberson was expected to play in the intersquad Blue-White Scrimmage but was a late scratch.
The next few months was more of the same: hopefulness followed by disappointment.
Finally in mid-January, Roberson left Oklahoma City to spend time away from the team and continue his rehab in Los Angeles. It felt like the separation might be permanent, like Roberson might never return to the Thunder.
But then he made the trip to Orlando with the team and started participating fully in practice.
Now, we’ve been in this part of the cycle before, the hopeful stage. We’ve seen how it can turn. We’ve tasted how it can sour.
Because of that, I’m not going to try to tell you how you should feel about Roberson's possible return. You know the disappointment phase could be coming. You recognize the positive talk now from Donovan and Roberson’s teammates could mean nothing later.
For all we know, the Thunder might’ve taken Roberson to Orlando as a goodwill gesture. He’s been a great teammate, a super Thunder DNA guy, and the team wants him to have these days with his buddies before his contract ends and the uncertainty of the future begins.
Then again, what if Roberson is in Orlando to play? What if he's actually going to be able to return to the court and get back into games this time?
“He’s been real chipper,” his buddy and Thunder big man Steven Adams said, adding that it’s a big deal when you get to do a full-on practice for the first time in a long time. “You get a different sort of energy when you get to do that.”
It would be unprecedented, of course, a professional athlete coming back to play after 30 months away. Who ever heard of such a thing?
But there was a day when pro athletes didn’t recover from certain injuries. There was a time when pitchers didn’t throw as hard after Tommy John surgeries and running backs didn’t move as well after ACL injuries; now they do.
So it might be with Andre Roberson.
Yes, returning after this long is still highly, highly improbable — but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.