SAITAMA - Blessed with natural athletic talent, Richard Roby and Kenyon Martin capitalized on opportunities to play pro basketball. The sport also helped them develop a brotherly bond.
Basketball is in their genes. Their father, Paul Roby, was a high school hoop standout in Saginaw, Michigan, in the mid-1970s. He was a Detroit News All-State selection in 1976, joining Magic Johnson as one of the honorees that year, and went on to play college ball at the University of New Mexico.
Raised in separate households, Martin grew up in Dallas, and Roby, who plays for the bj-league’s Akita Northern Happinets, in California. But their paths would eventually cross.
The 206-cm Martin was a bruising, physical power forward at the University of Cincinnati (1996-2000). He was a consensus first-team All-American and consensus national player of the year as a senior, when he posted averages of 18.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.5 blocks a game. He was the No. 1 pick by the New Jersey Nets in the 2000 NBA Draft and went on to play in 757 regular-season games for the Nets, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks before retiring in 2015. (He also had an 11-game stint in China in 2011 with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.)
Years before they met, Roby can recall his father talking about the future NBA standout.
“My father came over with a picture of him and said, ‘This is your brother, he’s in Dallas. He’s going to be in the NBA one day,’ ” Roby, now 30, told Hoop Scoop after Akita’s 86-63 beatdown of the host Saitama Broncos last Sunday.
This was before Martin became a Bearcats star under then-coach Bob Huggins. Before he became a two-time Conference USA first-team selection as a junior and senior.
In other words, Martin, now 38, was a bona fide talent in high school who hadn’t yet made the jump to the NCAA Division I ranks.
“He ended up being right,” Roby says now of his father’s prediction. “He had a great college career at Cincinnati . . . and a long career in the NBA.”
The 198-cm Roby has traveled a different path. Since he left the University of Colorado in 2008, Roby has suited up for teams in the Middle East, the NBA Development League, Europe, South America and Asia.
He joined the Northern Happinets in 2013 and averaged 20.1 and 20.0 ppg, respectively, over the past two seasons. Through Sunday, he’s scoring at a 20.1 ppg clip, 10th-highest total in the 24-team bj-league this year. The Happinets, meanwhile, are 29-15 and in third place in the 12-team East.
“I didn’t meet him until I was a freshman in high school, so I was already playing basketball long before I met him,” Roby said of K-Mart.
“I would say he was an inspiration, seeing him get drafted and have success in the NBA, and then when I went to Colorado, he was on the Nuggets so we had a chance to grow our relationship when I was in Colorado.”
Early in Martin’s pro career, he experienced individual and team success with the Nets. He earned NBA All-Rookie First Team honors (12.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks) and was No. 2 in Rookie of the Year voting.
In each of the next two seasons, the Nets reached the NBA Finals, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs in succession. As a fourth-year pro, Martin was named an All-Star reserve for the Eastern Conference squad. Months later, he was dealt to Denver in a sign-and-trade deal.
The Mile High City became Martin’s home base until 2011, and the Nuggets participated in the playoffs in all six of K-Mart’s seasons with them.
Meanwhile, nearby Boulder, about 40 km from Denver, offered Roby an environment to thrive as a college basketball player and be close to his older brother.
As a young teenager, Roby’s introduction to Martin proved to have a positive influence.
“Things are great with Kenyon,” Roby told the Albuquerque (New Mexico) Journal in 2006, adding, “We talk a lot and he’s always encouraging me.”
Two years earlier, Martin predicted big things for the incoming freshman Roby at Colorado. “He can get it done,” Martin told The Associated Press. “He’s athletic, sort of like me. He claims he can jump higher than me, but I told him he was out of his mind.”
Roby made an instant impact at Colorado, leading the team in scoring as a freshman (the first Buffs frosh since guard Chauncey Billups, who became an NBA star, to do so) and repeating that feat over the next three seasons. By the time his distinguished college career was over, Roby was No. 1 on the Buffaloes’ all-time scoring chart (2,001 points).
And it started with Martin and fellow Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony in the stands for Roby’s college debut.
“I was real nervous because it was my first college game in the preseason NIT, so it was a big game and they showed up and I played well,” Roby told me before admitting, “I did know they were coming, so I had knots in my stomach the whole day.”
On Nov. 15, 2004, Colorado whipped College of Charleston 72-57 in its opener, and Roby had a team-high 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting with eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks.
Before proving he could take his game to the next level in the pros, Roby took time as a collegiate player to gain valuable insights from Martin and some of his NBA counterparts about what it took to succeed in the world’s top league.
“Yeah, just being around him at that time and being around all the NBA guys and just picking their brains, watching how they work, it definitely helped me see what it takes to be a professional basketball player,” Roby admitted.
In addition, Roby recognizes there are clear differences in how he plays and the way Martin toiled on the court for a decade and a half as pro.
“I think our games are totally different,” Roby noted. “He’s more of a power player. He uses a lot of force, more physical. I’m more finesse skilled. So it’s totally different, but the thing I think is similar is we both have high basketball IQs, understanding where to be on the court, understanding how to help our teammates be successful.”
Asked if Martin’s longevity in the pro game is Roby’s own target, he responded by saying, “I’m going to play basketball until the wheels fall off, until I can’t do it no more. I’m 30 now, so hopefully I’ve got a few good years left playing. But I definitely love basketball ever since I was in the crib.”
At the same time, he understands that his energy, scoring prowess and all-around skills are vital for the Northern Happinets’ championship aspirations under second-year bench boss Makoto Hasegawa. Akita finished each of the past two seasons as the title runner-up squad. (Without Roby, it’s doubtful the team would’ve advanced to the final in either season.)
Even so, he has altered his game as the Happinets’ roster has changed.
“Yeah, I think my role has just changed a lot. . . . When I first got here, I was just basically a scorer,” Roby said. “Now I have to be able to do a little bit of everything for our team to win. so definitely it’s changed every year I’ve been here.”
Off the court, Martin has been a supporter of the Stuttering Foundation of America for more than a decade, and was recognized in 2008 for his efforts. That year, he was named the Freeing Voices, Changing Lives Leadership Award from the American Institute for Stuttering.
He also established the Kenyon Martin Foundation, which provides support for single-family households and others in need and grants to organizations such as the Salvation Army and Denver Rescue Mission.
For Roby, Martin’s generosity and philanthropic spirit reveals a side of his older brother that many people don’t see.
“What it shows me, because he has a reputation as being a bad boy on the court (is) he definitely has a big heart,” Roby said of a man who amassed 2,498 personal fouls during his long NBA career. “And that image is not him, the person that we now; he’s totally different off the court.
“He does play with a chip on his shoulder, but it just shows that, like, an image can be wrong of a person just by looking on the outside. But he definitely has a big heart and that’s something that he’s definitely passionate about.”