After Almost 1,000 Days Away, Andre Roberson Is Playing for the Thunder Again

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Every weekday, SI’s Chris Mannix will check-in with his Bubble Bits, a quick hit on something notable from inside the NBA’s campus

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Midway through the third quarter, a quiet gym suddenly got loud. When Andre Roberson checked into Oklahoma City’s scrimmage against Boston on Friday, it marked the first Roberson’s first appearance since January 27th … 2018. When Roberson stepped onto the floor, the Thunder bench rose and saluted Roberson with a standing ovation.

“It was a lot of emotions,” Roberson said after the game. “Anxious, happy, just overly ecstatic to get back on the floor.”

It’s been a long road back for Roberson. Once a key role player on Oklahoma City’s contending teams alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Then, a ruptured patella. Then a setback. Then another. In Roberson’s absence, the Thunder team that began to peel apart following the defection of Durant was completely dismantled.

Still, Roberson continued to work.

On Friday, 909 days from his last live action, Roberson, 28, was back on an NBA floor.

Roberson was rusty. He fumbled around in his first few minutes, shaky play the 6-foot-7 wing chalked up to new sneakers and a slippery floor. Quickly, though, Roberson got comfortable. He played nearly 12 minutes, tallying five points—including a corner three—and two rebounds while providing some of his trademark pesky defense with a steal and a block. Not that it mattered. For Roberson, just being back on the floor was enough.

“The guys couldn’t have been any more excited for him,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan. “Certainly the staff was very excited for him. I know I was, just seeing what he has gone through for the last two years. And then I think you were able to see glimpses of what’s made him such a great defensive player, the things that he does do and just how smart he is, his ability with his feet, his length. He actually played really, really well. 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.”

Roberson’s return deepens an already strong Oklahoma City second unit. The Thunder will resume the season tied with Houston for fifth in the Western Conference, a game behind Utah (which will be without Bojan Bogdanovic for the rest of the season) and 2 ½ behind the nicked-up Nuggets. A versatile defender, Roberson is another body—one with plenty of playoff experience—that Donovan can throw at some of the West’s top wing scorers. Roberson won’t play significant minutes, but in a strange season, every advantage counts.

That’s a topic for another day. For now, Roberson is just happy to be playing. He laughed as he answered questions from local reporters after the game. When he finished, he hugged Matt Tumbleson, the Thunder P.R. man. For more than two years, Roberson wondered if his NBA career was over. On Friday, it began again.