Nick Collison will have his jersey retired tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena, finally getting the respect he deserves 314 long days after hanging up his Air Monarchs. Life has gone on in Oklahoma City — though, there’s far less appreciation for perfectly coiffed hair and textbook backdoor bounce passing. Collison’s reign in the Sooner State is the stuff of legends, often bringing 18,000+ to their feet by simply removing his warm ups. It wasn’t the feverish type of superstar love enjoyed by Russ, Kevin, and later, Paul, but rather a relationship forged on the blue collar ideals people subscribe to in these parts. As far as hard hats, lunch pails, and fun-da-mentals are concerned, Mr. Thunder provided those traits in spades.
Whether it was diving on the floor for loose balls, taking charges, setting hard screens or holding on for dear life on tough box outs, Collison was the man for the jobs no one else wanted.Nick Gallo / okcthunder.com
While it’s uncommon for a true role player to earn such recognition, Collison had an important job on some good young Thunder teams — as a player, mentor, and human Swiss Army knife. In the first six seasons after the organization relocated from Seattle, Hair Jordan logged just under 21 minutes per game for an OKC team that made five playoff appearances, three trips to the Western Conference Finals, and one NBA Finals. He wasn’t as important as Westbrook, Durant, Harden, Ibaka, and others, but it wasn’t his job to be. Value is value, even if it’s not all created equal.
But everyone knows this has nothing to do with numbers.
Collison’s genius was in the minutia — little things that tilted games ever so slightly in the Thunder’s favor. A drawn charge here, a hard foul there, leaving the court with a face full of blood before returning with staples in his head. The master of everything within the realm of his own abilities, it never seemed lost on Collison that he was far from the most talented guy on the floor. Career averages of 5.9 points and 5.2 rebounds may make him unworthy of jersey retirement to some, but that’s sort of like judging a fish for its ability to climb a tree. It’s a valid argument, to be sure. It just misses the point of fish entirely.
Team success and his part in establishing a winning culture is why no. 4 will be the first jersey hoisted to the top of the ‘Peake — not for anything accomplished as an individual. The first era of Thunder basketball was filled to the brim with hall-of-fame talents and incredible moments, but at the end of the day, there’s only one Mr. Thunder. I can think of no better place to start than right here.