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Robinson and Roy in buddy system

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / January 27, 2011

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Their relationship dates back to grade school. They faced each other at rival high schools, played together on AAU teams, and reunited at the University of Washington, where they fueled the basketball program’s resurrection.

Nate Robinson was the athletic freak, the diminutive strongman with the Napoleon complex who took on all comers on the court. Brandon Roy was the gifted and composed swingman who was close to declaring for the NBA draft out of high school but instead became the model four-year college player.

While Robinson has constantly had to prove himself as an NBA player — entering dunk contests to display his mind-boggling athleticism — Roy methodically emerged as an All-Star, becoming the face of the Portland Trail Blazers with his understated but effective scoring style.

Last night, the Roy and Robinson families went out for one of their biannual dinners, scheduled each time Nate and Brandon’s teams face off.

Tonight at the Rose Garden, Robinson’s Celtics will go up against the Blazers, but this time Roy won’t be available to play, as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his knees.

At 26, Roy finds his playing career, or at least his All-Star status, in jeopardy, because years of playing on unstable knees have finally caught up with him.

Roy lacks cartilage in his knees, and after playing 23 games this season, he decided that exploratory surgery was necessary. He is unsure whether that will mean playing pain-free, but he is banking that at least the pain will be manageable.

He talks to Robinson often.

“I’ve been knowing B-Roy since the fourth, fifth grade, and the one thing I know about him is he’s a real positive guy,’’ Robinson said. “And I know B-Roy will never give up. He’s a fighter, man, and he loves the game of basketball and he’ll bounce back and he’ll be all right.

“If he comes back and just wanted to play a little bit, he will. He has that inner child that’s not going to let him give up. He’s always been like that since we were younger.’’

Robinson recalls playing alongside Roy in elementary school and taking on five guys. Neither backed down.

“Whatever we got to do to win, he’s just that type of guy,’’ Robinson said. “He would just fight through anything.’’

Robinson has found a home with the Celtics after a difficult start once he was acquired last February from the Knicks.

His sparkling performances in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals and Game 4 of the NBA Finals encouraged Celtics president Danny Ainge to offer Robinson the one thing he sought: security. Robinson signed a two-year, $9 million deal.

Roy had encouraged him the past few years to remain upbeat about his NBA future despite the highs and lows with the Knicks. Now it’s time for Robinson to offer encouragement.

“We just try to do things together and stick together,’’ Robinson said. “We’ve known each other for so long.

“I talk to him all the time and I tell him, ‘Man, you ain’t never going to give up.’ And he said, ‘You know me.’ ’’

Though Roy and center Greg Oden have missed extensive time this season (and Marcus Camby is out now, too), the Trail Blazers are 25-21 and in eighth place in the Western Conference as coach Nate McMillan has been able to win with patchwork lineups.

Roy told a Portland radio station this week that he doesn’t think his knee will ever be 100 percent, but that he plans to return, perhaps this season. Roy averaged 16.6 points in those 23 games but looked like a shell of himself.

Robinson remains optimistic he will return strong.

“I told him, ‘I got you, B,’ ’’ Robinson said. “He’s doing a great job, because at the end of the day, he’s still getting paid and he has two beautiful kids and a luxurious house.

“He’ll be all right. He will never give up.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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