Because basketball-reference.com exists, we can quickly diagnose the apparent contradiction between the professional numbers attached to Nick Collison’s name and the ceremony planned in his honor this evening.
Collison, who played 14 seasons for the same organization, four in Seattle and 10 in Oklahoma City, played in 910 NBA games, averaging 5.9 points and 5.2 rebounds.
He never played 30 minutes a game, topping out at 29-flat, his third season, 2006-07, in Seattle.
He never averaged double figures, scoring 9.8 and 9.6 points per outing his third and fourth seasons.
He was a part-time starter for four seasons, yet only one of them in Oklahoma City.
Following the 2008-09 season, he was a spot starter, finding himself in the opening lineup 15 times over the last 531 games in which he appeared.
Also, none of those things seem to matter. To just about everybody, what’s scheduled to take place at 8:15 tonight inside Chesapeake Energy Arena makes perfect sense.
It’s Mr. Thunder, after all.
Nobody’s wearing it now, nor will anybody again don Collison’s No. 4 jersey as long as OKC claims an NBA franchise. It will be out of commission.
Under different ownership, in a difference city, six others have been so honored by the organization that became the Thunder.
Ten seasons after it became a major league city, Collison will be the first so honored in OKC’s duds.
The day the organization announced its plan to create tonight’s ceremony, general manager Sam Presti said this about Collison.
“Nick Collison’s career in Oklahoma City was unique,” he said. “Unique in that he helped create the internal standards for work ethic, selflessness, citizenship and professionalism for an organization that was starting from scratch.
“Unique in that, as a role player, he embedded himself as a legacy player for the Thunder because of his consistency both in times of success and adversity and respect for his teammates and the organization.”
• • •
Roy Williams, Collison’s college coach at Kansas, now at North Carolina, wants people to understand just how good and talented a player he really was.
“He was the most fundamentally sound player I ever coached,” he said. “Great competitor, a very gifted player. Not just the player who tried to do all the little things right, but he was talented and played four great years for us.”
Still, making any point about Collison, the intangibles are never far away.
“I would say,” said Willaims, “in four years I probably yelled at Nick Collison one time and I can’t remember what time that would be.”
Oklahoma City center Steven Adams, sort of, credits Collison with never having to go down to the NBA’s developmental league to learn the professional game.
“Where he helped me, was basically … on the defensive end, just understanding the game a little better, because when you first come in, the game is moving so fast,” Adams said. “And what’s good with Nick, is he made it very simple … It helped me to get it going and not go down to the D-league and just kind of keep me around here.”
Russell Westbrook, whose leadership is not on display for public viewing, nonetheless offered a very public glimpse of the esteem for which he holds Collison on the final night of the 2017-18 regular season, grabbing a microphone near center court, and calling Collison “somebody I’ve always looked up to as a brother.”
“He’s done so much for me and this organization,” Westbrook said. “I just wanted to make sure you guys give him a standing ovation for the things he’s done for this city, for Oklahoma City.”
OKC fans, of course, are bound to love anybody who reflects their values.
As a perpetual underdog winning more games than they should, they loved the Hornets’ two seasons in Oklahoma City.
Before the Thunder became a winner, they loved them for the way they kept coming. They love Collison, specifically, for the way he played the game.
“He was just a great hardworking player,” said David Holt, always a fan and Oklahoma City’s mayor since last April, “the kind of team guy, role player, that it think really represented the team’s values, and I think the team’s values represent the city’s values.”
• • •
Adams has a story about a motto of Collison’s, but it’s not exactly repeatable in a newspaper. It’s about not overthinking.
“Less brains and more [expletive] and [expletive],” Adams said. “And that was our motto and that's what I’ve passed on to the young fellows here. If you break it down, it’s 100 percent [correct] … When you start making mistakes, it’s because you’re thinking too much.”
Williams, though, has a story he may have cleaned up, but that’s entirely repeatable. And, upon hearing it, Thunder fans might hope Collison could repeat something like it in a Thunder huddle as soon as tonight.
“One of the games I remember, was his senior year, we were in the Elite Eight in Anaheim, playing Arizona, and it’s a four-minute timeout, I think, and everybody kneels down in front of me and I start to say something and he says, ‘Coach, can I say something,’ and I say ‘Yes,’” Williams said. “He addressed the team and told them that it was his intention to go to the Final Four and they better get their rear ends in gear and play their rear ends off the last four minutes, because his intention was to go to the Final Four and they had better come along and do what he was going to do, because he was going to play his butt off.
“I sort of giggled a little bit and I said, ‘OK guys, let’s get our hands together,’ and that’s all that was said.”
Funny thing about that game, on the court, it wasn’t a big one for Collison.
He made 2 of 7 shots and finished with seven points. He grabbed nine rebounds, yet teammate Jeff Graves grabbed 15 and teammate Kirk Hinrich led with 28 points.
Yet, Collison had a role to play beyond the court. He knew when it was time to say what needed saying and he took over.
The Jayhawks won that day and made it to the national championship game.
“It is fitting,” said Presti, “that Nick will consider his unique and singular relationship with the organization by being our first retired number.”
Given OKC’s recent fortunes, it might seem they could use a guy like Nick Collison now.
They’ll have him tonight.
Toronto at Oklahoma City
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena
Records: Toronto 50-21, Thunder 42-29
TV: TNT, FSOK
Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1