Carlson: Why OKC Thunder's Andre Roberson is the feel-good story we need right now
Andre Roberson caught the ball in the left corner, and immediately, Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson started hollering.
The Sixers standouts on the bench were actually closer to Roberson than any Philly player on the floor, so they did what they could to distract him. But when the Thunder guard's wide-open shot rattled in, Roberson turned and stared them down.
Embiid and Richardson's response?
Same here, guys. Same.
Andre Roberson is providing smiles amid sadness and uncertainty. He is the feel-good story we all need right now. And not just for people in Oklahoma. Not just for NBA fans either.
He's a beam of light for everyone.
Our sports world is teetering, wondering if the Major League Baseball season will make it a week and if any level of football will make it at all. Our country is reeling, suffering the double whammy of disease and division.
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But Andre Roberson playing basketball again is a ray of sunshine, a glimmer of hope, an ode to joy. It is truly remarkable. Never mind that he has only playing in NBA restart exhibition games so far — the Thunder's third and final warm-up is Tuesday — because his time on the court counts even if the final results do not.
Roberson, you well know, last played on Jan. 27, 2018, when he ruptured his patella tendon during a game in Detroit. Here's how long ago that was: he was in the Thunder starting lineup with Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
Heck, Nick Collison was still a Thunder then.
The injury Roberson suffered can be a career ender. A 2018 study in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine looked at the 12 NBA players who suffered patella tendon tears between 1999 and 2015. Three never returned to the NBA.
Twenty-five percent of the time, tearing your patella tendon means you're done.
As difficult as Roberson's rehab was, it became even more daunting because of three significant setbacks along the way. The most serious was an avulsion fracture where a bit of bone attached to a tendon in his knee was pulling away.
Even though Roberson has been written and talked about a lot in recent weeks, it still might not be enough to fully convey how much he overcame.
None of it happened by accident. He worked. He persevered. He did what the medical professionals told him to do, and even when the results seemed minimal, he kept following their advice.
(On a related note: WEAR A MASK!)
"As much as that was a physical thing, it definitely was a mental battle," Thunder rookie Darius Bazley said of Roberson's recovery. "For him to come in games, it almost seems as he hasn't missed a beat."
Roberson has been great. Deflecting passes. Getting steals. Grabbing rebounds. He's doing many of the things that made him one of the league's best defenders.
But the truth is, Roberson has not yet gone against the caliber of opponent he would in a seeding game. While his minutes in the Thunder's scrimmages have been plentiful, all have come late in the third quarter and into the fourth. He isn't playing with the starters or even the second wave.
In the best-case scenario, Thunder coach Billy Donovan is playing Roberson in garbage time to build his confidence; the back-to-back threes he hit in the final minute against Philadelphia would indicate he's feeling good.
Worse-case scenario, playing late in these scrimmages is a sign he's not likely to be in the rotation when the games start counting.
Donovan insists he sees value in what Roberson brings to the court.
"I think he can do anything," Donovan said. "He can play the power forward spot. He play the two-guard spot. He can guard multiple different people.
"However we need to utilize him, I feel pretty confident that he's going to be able to provide."
But of course, questions remain. Could Roberson handle the rigors of playoff basketball, the thing the Thunder is truly preparing for in these seeding games? Could he guard Donovan Mitchell or James Harden or Jamal Murray? Could Roberson even be ready for a reserve role much less a starting one after 2½ years away?
Then again, at this point, who would put anything past him?
Andre Roberson has already done what seemed impossible. He stayed the course when everyone else thought it was headed for a dead end. He got back in the game. He became a light in a dark time.
Like that 3-pointer he dropped in front of a couple jeering Sixers, he gave us a reason to smile.
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.