By Adam Arms
Special to Daily Thunder
For those of us who have consistently followed Thunder basketball since its arrival in OKC, we can’t help but notice something seems different this year.
Watching the games we feel…lost.
It feels like something – or perhaps someone – is missing.
A player that has been with the Thunder since day-one in OKC.
A 6’10” beast. Crowd favorite. Team leader.
No… I’m not talking about KD.
I’m talking about a burly-ass athletic specimen whose soul is composed entirely of armor and brawn.
I’m talking about the garbage man. I’m talking about Nicholas J. Collison.
Take a step back from the ledge – Nick Collison is not retiring. But if you’ve watched many Thunder games this year, you may well have assumed as much.
In light of Kevin Durant’s looming return to OKC, I think it’s about time we stop worrying about what we’ve lost, and propose a toast to what we still have.
A 13-year veteran with the scars to prove it, Nick Collison has been doing the dirty work in OKC since the day it all began.
For the last decade his nightly routine has been to come off the bench, locate the opponents’ best big man, and smash him into the ground like a blood-soaked human bulldozer for 20 minutes a night. Ready to guard Dirk, Zach Randolph, Tim Duncan, or God himself if assigned the task.
Collison possesses both the raw physicality to pound you like an ox, and the brilliant elegance of a ballerina – prepared to casually glide in front of a slashing defender at the perfect moment to draw a bombacious charge that would knock a lesser man unconscious.
Taking charges is Collison’s wheelhouse. During OKC’s first legitimate title run in 2010-11, he drew 41 charges – most of any player in the NBA, according to nbaminer.com.
Forty-one times Collison successfully drew a charge. And I’d be willing to bet – all 41 times he popped up to his feet, ran down the floor and set a monster-truck-style screen to free up one of his teammates.
For the record, KD recorded exactly zero drawn charges that season. Durant wasn’t much on doing the dirty work.
I liken Durant to that scrawny friend we all have – the one that instigates a bar-fight but disappears when fists start flying. He’s the guy that always walks away from the brawl looking squeaky clean, while his buddies (i.e. Collison) limp away with two missing teeth and a couple of stab wounds.
And because Collison exits the bar looking like he’s fresh off a scene from The Walking Dead, everyone in town assumes he must’ve been taking a beating the entire time while Durant was doing all the asskicking.
Let me illustrate:
People only see what’s on the surface. They weren’t at the bar to see Durant hiding under the table while Collison was going full-blown Wrestlemania on three dudes at one time.
Collison’s a bruiser.
And this is critically important to understand about Collison’s game – he doesn’t flop. He takes charges the old fashion way. Full steam, square in the chest, consequences be damned. Balls to the walls, every damn night.
Per nbaminer.com, the 2010-11 season was the first of six consecutive seasons Collison led OKC in drawn charges. And it was never close…ever.
I can only imagine how many times Collison woke up in the morning with dried blood in his mouth and a Zach Randolph-sized bruise on his chest.
It’s nearly impossible to be described as “electrifying” when you have zero career offensive highlights and zero seasons averaging double-digit points (Career high = 9.6 PPG, Career avg. = 6.0 PPG). But anyone who watched a big game at the Peake over the years knew this – when Collison entered the game, there was a certain electricity that filled the arena.
You never really knew what you were expecting to happen – but it always felt like something was about to happen.
The average NBA career is less than five years. So how has Collison – a role player that doesn’t score – managed to stick around the league for 13-plus seasons?
He’s straight up paying the bills with hustle. That, and brawn, of course.
He dives for loose balls, sets rock-solid screens, crashes the glass, sacrifices his body – he does the little things that lead to W’s.
Ya know, it’s a shame we’ve had this Greek God at our disposal for 13 seasons and have yet to give him a quality, garbage man-style nickname. A name that really stands out; something that shines the spotlight directly on him for a change – even if just for a few seconds.
Too bad his first name isn’t Luke, or Drew, or Bruce.
Can you imagine every time he jumped off the bench and ran to the scorer’s table…18,000 rabid Thunder fans in unison, “LUUUUUUUUUUUUUUKE.”
Most of us can admit there was a time in the not-so-distant past when Kevin Durant was heralded as the OKC’s loveable heroic prodigy.
That didn’t work out. I’m sure you’ve heard. He bailed.
Disloyal actions – regardless of intent – tend to fuel feelings of hatred. And something tells me the fans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena will display those feelings quite……openly, come Saturday evening.
In the midst of loudly and boisterously voicing our feelings of disgust and disapproval toward a certain disloyal player who may be present on Saturday, we may get lucky – and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a glimpse of the most dependable, steadfast, and loyal player to ever wear a Thunder jersey.
The next time Collison hops off the bench, tears off his warmup, and jogs over to the scorer’s table – let’s give that man what is long overdue.
A standing ovation – the most highly regarded, absolute sign of admiration, appreciation, and respect that an athlete can receive from the fans.
And while I’m making bold suggestions (if the standing-O were to happen, we’re talking potentially the first ever standing-O for a player averaging 1.2 ppg on the season…I’m out on a limb here. A guy can dream though. Matter of fact, I can see the headlines now: “Nick Collison Steals Show From Durant; Draws Record-Breaking 11 First-Half Charges; Durant Quits Team and Joins Cleveland”), I’ll make one more.
We call him by a new name.
Given how many times we’ve seen Collison dive out of bounds after a loose ball, bleed from his face, and of course, draw an astronomical number of charges – the nickname seems fitting. The man surely has permanent bruising.
Remember this, Thunder fan.
When watching the game on Saturday, you will see one of OKC’s missing puzzle pieces on the floor to start the game.
And if you glance over to the bench, you’ll see the other.
6 foot 10. Team leader. Crowd favorite.
Let’s make sure they both know where they stand.
After all, if The Bruise manages to see the floor on Saturday, he may work up quite an appetite.
He won’t be having soul food for dinner, and he won’t be having Southern cuisine.
On the menu?