Brandon Roy had a cut near his right eye and cramps in his hamstrings, but he was all smiles as he sat at his locker stall late Friday night.
"I haven't won a game in a long time, so it was good to get the first one out of the way," he said.
He envisioned this moment, this night, for a long time. Roy's debut with the Timberwolves represented another milestone -- or "steppingstone" as he describes it -- in a comeback that isn't guaranteed a happy ending but looks optimistic at present.
Family members flew in for the occasion, and the Target Center crowd gave him a warm ovation during starting lineup introductions. Finally, the ball tipped off and he could just play basketball again.
"Preseason was great," he said, "but it's nothing like actually getting your name back in the books again for a real game."
It didn't take him long. Roy notched assists on the Wolves' first four baskets in a 92-80 victory against the Sacramento Kings. He finished with 10 points, six assists and five rebounds in 30 minutes in his return to the NBA after a brief retirement.
Roy had a tough shooting night, making only four of his 14 attempts from the field, including 0-for-5 from three-point range.
"I think I kind of started pressing a little bit once a couple went in and out," he said.
Roy wasn't sure he would get to experience another season opener. He retired last season because of a degenerative knee condition that left him without cartilage in either knee. His desire to keep playing never left him, but bone-on-bone knees aren't exactly conducive for the daily rigors of an NBA season.
Make no mistake, this is an experiment for Roy and the Wolves, and nobody is sure how it will play out. He still needs to find his game legs after a long layoff and adjust to the speed of the game. He appeared a step slow at times Friday, which was not unexpected because this is a process, not a flip of a switch.
"I think as far as playing I feel good," he said, "but it's just getting the legs back."
The platelet-rich plasma therapy Roy received in June reduced swelling and soreness in his knees. But, as he noted, 81 games remain on the schedule, and he must prove his knees can withstand the wear and tear of a long season, including an occasional back-to-back.
"I've just got to be smart and not try and put too much pressure on myself too early," he said.
The Wolves need his production and leadership, especially in the absence of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio for the time being. In Portland, Roy played at an All-Star level when his knees allowed it. His game is smooth and methodical, and he gives the Wolves size at shooting guard. Roy can create his own shot, handle the ball and get to the basket. And he wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
Roy and Rick Adelman have discussed a general game plan for his role, but they'll keep things fluid because it's impossible to predict how his knees will hold up. Roy said he doesn't want to put a "cap" on his own expectations, but the Wolves want to be smart about how they handle him, too.
"It's just how much can he do over a long season, day after day, the daily grind we have," Adelman said. "That's something he'll find out as we find out. I don't think you plan two weeks in advance."
Wolves coaches preach patience with Roy because, admittedly, he wants everything to happen overnight. He's determined to play at a high level again. As he prepared for this comeback this past summer, Roy asked close friends to grade his workouts. Give an honest assessment of how he looks, he told them.
"And at the end of every workout I've ever been in, they said, 'Why wouldn't you play basketball again?'" he said on the eve of training camp.
To Roy, that was merely a rhetorical question. He always knew he wanted to play again. He just needed a new home and a plan that included steppingstone moments.
He reached another one Friday night.
"What's been my mindset with this comeback is do it for myself," he said. "I want to do it for all those nights that I sat there and maybe thought I couldn't. I just want to get out there and prove that I can."
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org