ORLANDO — 909 days. 30 months. Over two years.
That’s what stood between Andre Roberson’s departure and his triumphant return Friday afternoon during the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 98-84 victory over the Boston Celtics. Yes, the game was otherwise meaningless, but for Roberson and the Thunder, it was a special day.
“There were a lot of emotions,” Roberson said as he smiled through his mask after the game. “Anxious. Happy. I was just happy to hear my coach call my name to come into the game.”
“Coach (Billy Donovan) told me at halftime that I was coming in and the nerves starting rattling, I don’t know if y’all could tell.”
It was easy to see. Every Oklahoma City player, coach and staff member stood to applaud their returning comrade. Even former Thunder player Enes Kanter was seen clapping from the Celtics bench. Kanter and Roberson later shared an embrace and some words after the game.
“He’s my brother,” Kanter said. “I was so happy for him. Once he made his first bucket, I know I was going against him, but the last two years have been rough for him.”
Donovan has been complimentary of Roberson over the last month. The Thunder head coach was no different following the game.
“He actually played really, really well,” Donovan said. “And I give him a lot of credit for a guy that’s had off for as long as he has to get out there in the first competitive situation and then do a great job. I couldn’t be any happier, forget about the way he played even though he played great.”
Going back before the hiatus, Donovan would routinely mention that Roberson was in fine shape. The only hurdle for him was his body’s ability to bounce back from a physical 5-5 environment the next day. Donovan doesn’t anticipate that being a problem moving forward.
“Going back to training camp and October, we thought we were making significant strides, and then there were some setbacks,” Donovan mentioned. “Right now, these first two weeks since we’ve been here, he’s responded well and he feels very good. Tonight was a great night for him to build upon.”
Roberson finished with five points in just under 12 minutes of play. He never played with Chris Paul, but the Thunder’s captain was just as enthusiastic to see him return.
“The big thing for Dre is when I first got traded to OKC, I went down there to work out and hoop with the team and it was his first day back on the court trying to play pickup and he had a setback,” Paul said.
“I used to play against Dre, year in and year out and I got a chance to see him through this whole process and the hard work that he’s put in so it was an unbelievable feeling for us to see one of our brothers who we know what he’s been through mentally.”
OKC’s next scrimmage is on Sunday at 11 am central time. It will be streamed on the Thunder’s app or you can go to okcthunder.com/live to view on your computer or tablet.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12. Brady is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma class of 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports