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MANILA, Philippines – Andre Roberson was one of the most highly touted defensive specialists in the NBA. At the height of his career, his archetype was a valuable commodity among teams.
This time, he looks to rekindle that brilliance with the Philippines’ Strong Group Athletics.
Alongside eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard and naturalized Filipino Andray Blatche, Roberson will be reinforcing this year’s Strong Group crew in the 33rd Dubai International Basketball Championship.
“Just giving it one last shot before I hang up the shoes and move on to my next career,” said Roberson on the Courtside Club podcast. “I kind of wanted to walk away and be satisfied to a degree.”
Roberson was known for his defensive performances for the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he was a regular starter alongside NBA MVPs Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, often guarding the opposing team’s best players.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of his career was his 17-point performance in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, in which the Thunder erected a 3-1 lead over the 73-9 Golden State Warriors.
Even after Durant left Oklahoma City, Roberson continued to excel in his role, becoming part of the All-NBA Defensive Second Team in the 2016-2017 season.
What seemed like only the start of a career leap, Roberson’s rise came to a screeching halt. In only his fifth season, he ruptured his left patellar tendon in January 2018.
Most fans considered Roberson to be the glue that kept the trio of Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony together in the 2018 season. Unfortunately, that injury and his subsequent setbacks contributed to the Thunder’s collapse that year.
Roberson did not play another basketball game until the 2020 NBA Bubble, where the Thunder was on the verge of a rebuild.
Now, he is joining a Strong Group team filled with marquee names from the local and international scenes.
“It’s a great opportunity to further explore, not just myself [or] my career, but just to enjoy life in itself and kind of get through the past hardships of the torture of the rehab stages, the constant aches and pains,” said Roberson.
“[From] just battling the pain to a place where I’m finally healthy. Finally, you know, mentally free, I guess you could say, of pain,” he added.
The Dubai stint will be Roberson’s first tournament abroad after attempting a NBA comeback in recent years with the Brooklyn Nets and the Oklahoma City Blue of the NBA G League.
His NBA days may have been tragically cut short by injuries, but the 32-year-old forward has the chance to prove he still has a lot left in his tank with Strong Group.
“Playing in a different aspect of the game, let alone jumping on a team I know nothing about, let alone the guys, let alone the referees calling it different, so it’s just a lot of new avenues you can speak for,” Roberson said.
So far, Howard, Blatche, Roberson, and local standouts Kevin Quiambao, JD Cagulangan, and Francis Escandor have been named to make up the squad.
Behind the big names of his fellow imports on the team, this opportunity opens a door for Roberson to regain the competitive fire he once had.
“Obviously, getting in a great place with my body and mind of, not necessarily being happy, but being hungry again. Having that fire and drive to go out there and be great again,” said Roberson about his personal goals for the tournament.
While rekindling that fire, the priority for him remains to help the Strong Group rule the Dubai tilt slated on January 19 to 28.
“Go over there and win the tournament. Obviously, I want to do well in doing so,” he said. – Rappler.com