Nick Collison, “Mr. Thunder,” Reflects on Being Oklahoma City’s Longtime Backbone

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO — Thunder veteran forward Nick Collison has only had to move once in his NBA career: from Seattle to Oklahoma City when the team officially relocated in 2008.

Besides that, Collison, 35, has been with the same SuperSonics-turned-Thunder franchise for 13 years, since he was the No. 12 draft pick in 2003. Only a few active players in the league have been with one organization at least that long: Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem in Miami, and Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in San Antonio.

When GM Sam Presti took over the Thunder in 2007, Collison was the only player he kept on the roster. When Presti re-signed him last year to a two-year deal, he said this about the team’s glue guy: “Since our arrival in 2008, Nick has helped us establish the standards on and off the floor that we work by on a day-to-day basis. He has accepted various roles, demonstrated professionalism in all aspects of his craft and shown a commitment to an organizational philosophy that is rare in sports today. Nick is the type of player that will always be valued in Oklahoma City.”

Thunder scoring leader Kevin Durant also made that clear with a special tweet that day.

On Tuesday at the University of San Francisco, following the Thunder’s practice, the NBPA caught up with Collison for a few minutes to discuss his impact on the championship-contending team through the years.

 

Jared Zwerling: What does it mean to you to be with one franchise for your entire career?

Nick Collison: I’ve been fortunate. It’s been a place I’ve wanted to be and they’ve wanted to have me around. I feel like contractually it’s always worked out where we can come to a fair deal, and I’ve liked how I’ve been treated. I never felt the need to go anywhere else and the way our team has grown, it’s been really fun to be a part of—to be with these guys for a long time when they were younger coming up and having success. And I know that’s really rare in the NBA, to be able to have that continuity and those teammates year after year, especially in today’s NBA with so much movement.

So I really just kind of appreciate my place. I know a lot of the guys in the league that every year they’re not sure where they’re going to be. And I think about them moving their families. I’ve played with a lot of guys that are trying to make the team and earn a contract in training camp. I haven’t had to deal with any of that. I realize I’m really fortunate. So without the moving of a franchise, which rarely happens, I never would’ve moved at all. I’m real appreciative of the way it’s worked out.

JZ: When you think about the culture of the team, how do you think you’ve put your stamp on the identity here?

NC: I like to think I’ve been a pro and do things the right way. I do them that way because I think it helps me in my career. I think I’ve been a good example. And as I’ve shifted to become more of a veteran player, I’ve really tried to help younger guys, and that’s what I do more of now than anything else. And it’s been fun to do that.

I think I want to always be like an authentic teammate—really try to do whatever I can to help guys out, help the team out. It’s just the way that I’ve been taught to be part of a basketball team. And I think it’s helped me in my career being helpful, being a good teammate. It’s allowed me to last this long.

JZ: Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter are younger big men who take after you with their hustle and physical play. How do you think you’ve rubbed off on them?

NC: That’s all them, that’s their nature, but I think there’s a lot of things. We’ve had other veteran guys around, too—Perk [Kendrick Perkins], Derek Fisher, Thabo [Sefolosha]—who have set the tone for how we work and do our work every day. So when new guys come in—Kevin and Russell [Westbrook] included—that’s what everyone does, so you fall in line.

And I think as a young player coming into our organization, it’s a great organization to come into because that structure is already in place, those examples are already there. And you’re more likely to work because you’re falling in line, as opposed to going somewhere where anything goes and you can go sideways. It’s kind of a culture and it’s something that’s built day after day over a long time. It doesn’t just happen that way.

JZ: You and Steven have grown very close, starting last summer when he visited you in Seattle and you guys worked out and went boating together. What’s that connection been like to develop?

NC: I really like him. He’s a special guy. He’s really smart, tough. Basketball-wise he can do a lot of things. He’s a great teammate, he wants to learn—really as good as they come. And then off the court, he’s a really interesting guy. He’s interested in a lot of things. He’s funny. We get along well even though I’m quite a bit older than him.

I enjoy hanging out, he’s a good friend of mine and it’s good to get together and work out a little bit in the summer, and spend some time together away from the team setting. It was fun. We’ll probably try to do it again this summer and maybe we’ll get a couple other guys out there.

This guy….

A photo posted by Nick Collison (@nicholascollison) on

JZ: In 2012, you guys had a run to the Finals. Do you see any similarities between that team’s makeup with what you’ve forged together this playoffs?

NC: Yeah, we’ve gotten better as the playoffs have gone on this year, and that was similar to 2012. I felt like we grew as the series went on, and I’m feeling that now even better. Both teams had a lot of young guys. This team is a little better equipped for it though I think just in terms of our experience. We’ve had a lot of things thrown at us, and we’re able to realize that the most important thing is just to play the next play, because it’s a rollercoaster and we’ve dealt with it before.

That experience I think is helping us. There’s a lot of guys who don’t have that experience, but when half the team can bring along the other guys, it really helps. Whereas in 2012, we did have some veteran guys, but the guys playing the majority of the minutes were there for the first time. And there’s just certain things that you have to go through.

JZ: Does any part of you, especially now that you’re working more with the younger players, think about coaching for the Thunder one day or staying with the organization in another capacity?

NC: Yeah, I’ve thought a lot about it. A lot of it is going to be with my personal life. I have a daughter; she’s 10. It’s hard to just jump back into it. So we’ll see. I think I’d be good at doing something in the game, and I know that I’m going to have to do something with the rest of my life. It’s going to be more of the right decision for my kid and for me and my personal life. If I only had to worry about myself, I think I would jump into something. I think a lot about it. I’ll feel it out when the time comes.

JZ: KD calls you “Mr. Thunder.” Any other nicknames among the guys?

NC: That’s about it [laughs]. That’s not even a real nickname. It’s more of almost a joke because I’ve been here so long. It’s fun to be able to have a lot of shared history with those guys. We’ve got a lot of stories, a lot of inside jokes from all those years together. That’s another cool thing about it: getting to really build friendships with guys. A lot of guys are in and out. You play with a guy for a year and then you don’t keep in touch. So it’s been cool to be able to have those relationships.

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