(I swear once the playoffs are over I’ll post about something non-Thunder related.)
When someone says they’re making a top 5 athletes, actors or musicians list, you just assume that the ranking will be based primarily on skill. However, when you feel you start to know they people you’re ranking, it becomes harder to not take your personal feelings into account. So what about the flip side? Last week, just for the fun of it, I sat down and ranked each Thunder player based on what I know of who they are as people. Talent and accolades get you nowhere on this list; character and personality are tops.
5. James Harden
The man. The myth. The beard.
For all the fuss surrounding James and his breakout performance to a national audience in this years post season (credited largely to the magical power his beard holds), fans haven’t really had the chance to get to know 2012’s Sixth Man. Grantland posted an article recently talking about how James is sort of an enigma. Quiet, selfless, goofy and yet at any moment can explode and prove to you he’s not one to back down from anything. Then he’ll walk out of the arena in a bowtie and studded Louboutins and make videos with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green of the trio lip syncing various songs in their hotel rooms under the title of “The Broingtons“.
Through season ticket holder events and always watching/listening to any Thunder interviews available, I’ve found that James is quite well-spoken and confident while still seeming slightly insecure about being in the spotlight… and that’s the thing that endears me most to him. Humility. Because of the added exposure to the Thunder this season, the world is coming to see what we in Oklahoma City have known all along – James Harden is the real deal. With the spotlight pointed our direction comes controversy. Murmurs of discontent in a bench role fill the lips of fire-starting reporters. What they fail to mention is that James chose his place. There has been no doubt since the Jeff Green trade that Harden has been our third best player and deserves a starting position – it was offered to him during the off season. James responded that he thought the team is better with him coming off the bench and that is his main concern – the team. Someone as talented as he is being willing to play a supporting role without one single complaint is one in a million… maybe more.
As his accolades continue to grow, I look forward to learning more about the man behind that spectacular facial hair.
4. Russell Westbrook
Quickly becoming one of the most hated players in the NBA today, Russell Wesbrook beat out 12 other remarkable men on the Thunder roster to claim my #4 spot.
Go with me here… I understand why people hate Russ. Heck, for a while he’s wasn’t exactly my favorite either. Known for throwing fits, getting techs and accused of being a ball hog who despises sharing the spotlight with superstar, Kevin Durant, if you’re not a Thunder fan, what is there to like about him? As it turns out, a lot.
The kid we drafted in 2008 is not the man with number zero on his chest today. Russell Westbrook has become an adult before our eyes – and what an outstanding man he is! Gone are the days of Russell flying off the handle, now he’s one of the most composed players on the floor in any given situation. Like a superhero who must learn how to harness their super powers, he now uses the blatant chip on his shoulder to win basketball games. But what brought about this change?
I guess you could say Russ is one of those guys who was tested by fire. After a preposterously overblown “argument” between he and KD and a string of disappointing performances, Russ was getting blasted from every angle. That’s when hometown fans let him know what they really thought of him, chanting his name in support during free throw attempts in a game against Dallas. It may just be my perception, but Russ has never been the same since that moment. Knowing that his family, his team and his town are behind him no matter what, he has become invincible. That’s where the fun has come in. Instead of press commenting about how he’s a loose cannon, most conversations center around how vital he is to the success of the Thunder or his interesting wardrobe choices in post game conferences.
If you take a minute to get to know Russell, you’ll see that he’s a nice, funny guy with a chip on his shoulder. But really, what’s wrong with that? Interviews like the one he did with the TNT crew after closing out the series with the Lakers where he joked with Chuck about OKC claiming Mickey Mantle (“We gotta claim somethin’!”) and a piece from ESPN telling the story of how a friend changed Russ’ life show that he’s more than he appears to be. Once you get to know Russell Westbrook, it’s impossible not to like him… we’ll unless he’s just absolutely slaughtering your team. That’d do it.
3. Kendrick Perkins
Yep. The other guy you probably hate. That’s cool. Let me tell you a few things about Kendrick Perkins:
1. He sets his fair share of illegal screens.
2. He talks some major trash.
3. He is just what the Thunder needed when we picked him up midway through last season.
4. He’s strengthened us and given us toughness to compete.
5. He is flipping hilarious.
Say what you want about what Perk does on the court. I think everyone is well aware of the benefit of having him in a Thunder jersey. What you may not know much about is Perk off the court.
If you missed his short stint on Twitter, you missed out on some of the best tweets ever. Before speaking his mind about Chris Webber’s comments, Perk’s feed was mostly filled with cheesy jokes and random thoughts. I wish I could find a record of them somewhere. There is one that will forever be ingrained in my mind when Perk asked who was hotter – him or Forest Whitaker. I laughed for a good 5 minutes at that.
Kendrick’s experience in the tweetverse is what first drew me to him, but after learning more about him over time, I’ve only grown to love him more. I remember when we picked him up – with his reputation, the organization was quick to inform people that while he’s a grizzly on the court, he’s a big teddy bear off of it. That has proven to be true. Married to his high school sweetheart, loving father and loyal to his fans, Perk is an all around good dude. Not to mention that even with a championship ring to his credit, he recognizes that he can learn from the players around him.
They say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover… you also can’t judge a man by his bad ass scowl.
2. Nick Collison
Nick Collison has been a working man’s hero from the moment we acquired the Thunder in 2008. Everywhere you go around OKC, you’ll find fans in Collison jerseys. I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t get it. Matter of fact, I was well known for complaining that Nick didn’t do anything; mocking his guaranteed 4 points and 1 – 2 charges per game. What I failed to understand with my tiny, uneducated basketball brain is that, even though it doesn’t show up on a stat sheet, he’s so much more than that. I also didn’t understand how vital those points and, more importantly, charges are to the team’s success.
My apologies, Mr. Collison. I was wrong about you. I’d be crushed if, for some reason, you were no longer on our roster. I now wear this shirt as my recompense.
But this list isn’t about skill, it’s about… everything else. Once I realized the err of my ways, I wandered over to Nick’s twitter account and found out the dude is smart, funny and has great taste in TV shows. I also noticed he has the cutest little girl in the whole world. (A man who has a cute kid that he adores will melt almost any girl’s heart.)
This year at the season ticket holder event, a fan asked Russell and Nick how far away they had fans. Russ’ response was that he had heard from people overseas and all over the globe who had become Westbrook fans. Nick’s response, “I think I got a letter from a guy in Chicago once.” Instantly smitten.
When I thought my affection for Nick could grow no deeper, he began writing a guest blog for GQ filled with a glimpse of what it’s like to be a player in the NBA, all written with the whit and charm that Nick holds. With each article I become more and more impressed with him – his intelligence, kindness, humility and work ethic.
If I were to marry a Thunder player (which, sadly, is a conversation I’ve had on more than one occasion), I’d pick Nick.
1. Kevin Durant
I’d like to be less predictable, but come on. When you’ve got a guy like Kevin Durant on your team, if you say anyone else is your favorite, you’re lying to try to sound cool.
Let’s face it, Kevin Durant is a freak. He’s 23 and has already claimed his spot as one of the NBA’s elite players. And while that may be what draws people to KD, it’s not the most impressive thing about him. Humble, hard-working, generous, confident, positive, loyal, kind… that’s just the beginning.
The first time I met Kevin was at an event called “KD’s Giving Tree”. For a few hours you could come up to Penn Square Mall, pick a child’s name from the Christmas tree and buy them a gift. In exchange, you got to meet KD. You probably don’t remember that event happening, but it was one of his more public charitable events. Since then he has been helping people all over the city and across the world, whether it’s through the Thunder organization or on his own time. Not long ago he made random stops around the OKC and tweeted his location. If you could catch him, he’d give you a pair of his signature line shoes. Along with his mom (Wanda) and brother (Tony), he gave out money to single mothers this last Christmas so they could make it a special one for their children. That’s just the kind of guy he is. His generosity goes mostly under the radar and that exactly how he wants it.
He’s also the guy that got bored one night during the lockout and decided to meet up with some college kids at OSU and play a game of flag football. That sounds cool, and it is, but it’s cooler when you know that Stillwater, the home of OSU, is about an hour and a half away from Kevin’s house. And, not only did KD meet the kids that invited him to play, he also picked them up in his pimped out van. (Oh yeah, KD drives a van. Thumbs up!)
And let’s not forget about his work ethic. Superstars in the NBA feel entitled to certain things – not so with Kevin. His ongoing mantra has been, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” He is living proof of that. After winning game 5 in the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of KD, “He works like he has no talent.” Think about that for a minute. Nothing will be awarded to Kevin that he didn’t earn through hard work and sacrifice.
A few other things to consider:
He embraces his role as a leader and has expressed that leading his team is his #1 priority.
In a league with so many players willing to throw their teammates under the bus or abandon a city in hope of winning a ring, Kevin has been very public about the fact that he’ll stay in Oklahoma City as long as he’s wanted. That’s kind of unheard of.
He’s becoming a pretty decent actor and really, not a bad rapper either.
Lastly, Kevin loves his family. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat their mom, and Ms. Wanda is treated like a queen. (Rightfully so.) KD credits his mom for his success and makes it known how much he loves, appreciates and respects her. Pay attention at any given game and you’ll see Kevin hug his family (usually mom, grandma and brother) before and after every game. Win or lose.
All that said, I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of who Kevin really is, much like he’s just scratching the surface of what he can really do on the court.
On behalf of Thunder fans, future moms and society as a whole, thank you for raising such a remarkable young man, on and off the court, Ms. Wanda.