by Ryne Nelson

I’m not suggesting you give it a try, but mentally compartmentalizing NBA players can be a simple exercise:

There are the athletic freaks of nature. Volatile malcontents. Extra-efficient specialists. Cocky superstars. Non-conformist social deviants. Corny, viral video hopefuls. Long-range gunslingers. The list continues…

The process of creating mental groups allows us to comprehend what would otherwise be chaos in our mind. We do this as an automatic mind organizer – our anti-entropy filing system. To our brain, the NBA is too complex to have a single working definition. We build our conception from the ground up – players combine into groups; groups are arranged into concepts; and concepts form our opinions.

For example, we might group RayRay, Michael Redd, and Joe Johnson since they’re all deadly shooters. Defensive students of the game, Shane Battier and Tayshaun Prince fit nicely. Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Deron Williams fit for obvious reasons. Gerald Wallace, Josh Smith and Rudy Gay practically own our cranium’s amazement compartment. Baron Davis and Chris Bosh go together as they’ll likely petition for our All-Star votes for years to come.

We may combine these groups into larger, even more general groups until we finally create broad enough concepts to comprehend the NBA. It may seem difficult on paper, but when we all think ‘NBA,’ our brains do this automatically in a millisecond’s time.

I tell you this because I believe there is one player who constitutes his own group – his own concept in our minds. Yes, that player is 24-year-old Brandon Roy.

He is the single error in an otherwise flawless system. If he were to be considered a horse of a different color, that color would be clear. I find Brandon to be very frustrating and exciting at times – often both at once. You see, his most notable feature is that he doesn’t have one.

After exploring the wildest stretches of the imagination and turning the corners of the most abstract mental affiliations, I deduced the 6-6 guard is without peer no matter how you look at it. Brandon Roy is one of many great players in the League today, yet unlike the rest, his most unique attribute not only fails to stand-out, it doesn’t exist.

The fact of the matter is Brandon Roy will never be among the NBA’s most popular players. His jersey will never be come near the Top 10 sales lists in America or abroad. He’ll never be a first-round fantasy pick. He probably will never lead the League in any statistical category. And if you get your news from the late-night sports highlight reels, you’ll likely forget about Roy altogether.

He’ll never land a modeling gig with Sean John, and he’ll probably never design a signature sneaker. He’ll never get like his teammate Greg Oden and sing a piano duet with J.T. in front of a national audience.

When a system is working well, we don’t notice the nuts and bolts. But when there’s a wrench in the system, the wrench becomes our only focus. Brandon Roy stands out like a freckle – it goes unnoticed until it’s specifically being searching for. But in Brandon’s case, this freckle is a birthmark the size of a quarter – the mere fact that it’s different seems to merit our attention.

Brandon Roy is different all right. He does pretty much everything on and off the court well. He makes the right decisions – starting with his choice to pull his name out of the 2002 Draft – and exudes an air of control without speaking a word. There’s an inexplicable calm that he brings to the fore. Even the diehard basketball fan might forget Brandon is rehabbing a torn meniscus in his left knee. He’s become so reliable and professional, Blazer fans are treating the surgery like he was in for a routine physical.

Brandon’s most complex mystery is what he does best. He is not a jack of a single trade, but a prodigy who can do it all well. Therein lies Brandon’s difference again – he has no flaw to hide. In a world of specialists, Brandon is undeniably old school. Teams today have set roles for nearly every player on its roster. Brandon acts all roles equally well. Today’s manifesto highlights strengths and avoids weaknesses. Brandon Roy is the student who gets an ‘A-‘ in every subject instead of mostly ‘B’s’ and an ‘A+.’

Brandon is unlike anyone in the NBA. It’s clear he cannot be grouped with the rest of the stars in the NBA. Nor should he. He clearly is setting new standards. I thought such a unique player should have his own group – his own category. After exploring the wildest stretches of my imagination and turning the corners of my most abstract mental affiliations, I came up with nothing suiting. I slept on it, and it was obvious all along.

The category in which Brandon Roy fits perfectly is ‘Trailblazer.’

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