We, as fans, sometimes view players as objects of entertainment. We look to them as visual and emotional toys that we unwrap every October, and hope to play with through June. When they no longer entertain us or completely frustrate us, they become highly expendable in our minds. We get on blogs and forums and completely blame that player for everything that is wrong with the team. It doesn’t matter whether the team is the best in the league or the worst in the league, there’s always that one player that catches the ire of most of the fanbase. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that they are humans too.
There has developed a sort of love-hate relationship between Thunder fans and center Kendrick Perkins in the last couple of weeks. None of it is due to anything personal. For all intents and purposes, Perkins seems like an affable guy who is completely devoted to his family. A big extended family that includes his nuclear family and his Thunder fam. Some players talk about their team being a family, when, in reality, family just means people that they have to deal with for 6-9 months out of the year. Some players, though, really do live by the “team is family” creed, inviting teammates to their house and generally, trying to bond with them throughout the season, and sometimes, even after the season.
As a team, the Oklahoma City Thunder are very family oriented. The leaders on the team adhere to this concept as does the organization as a whole. The foundational culture of the team is rooted in family. And included in that family, is the entire fan base. We, as fans, are all invested in the same cause, but at different ends of the spectrum. The players are the performers and the fans are the audience. But sometimes, it’s easy to forget that the family concept is a two way street. We, as fans, expect for the team to acknowledge us, either through charity work, through team interviews, or through slogans, such as “Team is One”. We expect players to sign autographs for us at all hours of the day, wherever we see them. But, the sad truth is that fans do a bad job of picking players up when they aren’t providing what we expect of them.
Family means different things to different people. To me, family is the group of people you are born/raised into and the people you accept into your circle. It’s a set of people whom you accept and can depend on through the good and the bad. And as a sports family, we’ve accepted the Oklahoma City Thunder into our family. They are interwoven into our fabric from October through June. We have Thunder watch parties, talk about the team around the dinner table, and talk about the people in the organization like they reciprocate talking about us at their dinner tables.
Family dynamics are a difficult part of co-existing as a family. Not everyone is going to get along the same all the time. But if a family is to co-exist, they have to accept the good and the bad of a member and go with it. For example, every family has that one family member. You know, the black sheep that’s kind of an outcast and rough around the edges. Its usually an uncle. They may have either served some time in jail or have a short temper. And they usually have drama with a wife, ex-wife, girlfriend, or baby momma (or a combination of all four) that spills over into family events. And when something goes down involving a bar, a fight, and a woman, you know Uncle was involved. But here’s the thing about Uncle, though. He’s full of wisdom and has a great ear for listening. And, he’s great at some sort of handy work, usually mechanics or carpentry. And when you need him, he’s always there, no questions asked.
Well, that Uncle is Kendrick Perkins. He’s a little rough around the edges with the scowl and the intimidation. He’s probably on the naughty list of most of his opponents. And, he’s had some injury issues in the past. But when we need him to guard a Dwight Howard or a Marc Gasol, he’s there with his hard hat on, no questions asked. When we needed him to play through a torn groin and a wrist that needed to be surgically repaired, he gutted it out and performed beautifully. When his young teammates need an ear to vent to, he’s there to listen with some Southern drawl wisdom to accompany it. Whenever we need Perk, he’s there. And yet, when he is used incorrectly, or he doesn’t perform to our standards, we chastise him and await his presence with a pink slip in our hands.
If comparing Perkins to a family member doesn’t help you see his value, let me give you some tangible evidence versus some of the top centers in the game:
- 2009-10 – including playoffs vs. Bynum (LAL), Howard (Orl), Perkins (Bos), Duncan (SA), M.Gasol (Mem), and Nene (Den) – 9-16
- 2010 thru Feb 23, 2011 – vs. Duncan (SA), Bynum (LAL), M.Gasol (Mem), and Nene (Den) – 2-6
- March 14, 2011 – end of season (including playoff) vs. Bynum (LAL), Jefferson (UTA), Nene (Den), and D. Jordan (LAC) – 13 – 6
- 2011 – 2012 – 66 game season including playoffs vs. Bynum (LAL), Howard (Orl), M.Gasol (Mem), Duncan (SA), Jefferson (Uta), and D. Jordan (LAC) – 19 – 11
- 2012 – through the New Year 2013 – vs. Howard (LAL), M.Gasol (Mem), Duncan (SA), D.Jordan (LAC), and Jefferson (Uta) – 4 – 2
Excluding the first season the Thunder were in Oklahoma City, the team went 11 – 22 against top tier centers in the league before the arrival of Perkins. That’s a .333 winning percentage. After the arrival of Perkins, the team has gone 36 – 19 against top tier centers. That’s a .655 winning percentage. Looking at the raw data, Perkins has nearly doubled the chances of the Thunder winning versus a team with a top tier center.
Understandably, the correlation is not one to one. The players around Perkins have gotten better as they have aged. But the Thunder doesn’t improve as quickly as it has without that rock in the middle. And there is no way the Thunder make it to the Finals last season without Perkins manning the middle. The defensive job he did on Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bynum, and Tim Duncan was a big reason the Thunder were Western Conference Champions. While his performance against the Heat in the Finals exposed his flaws, it wasn’t like he was put in a position to succeed by Coach Scott Brooks, either. Brooks needs to understand that against smaller, quicker teams, Perkins’s strengths will be negated. Conversely, Perkins needs to understand that against these teams, he may have to sit more time than usual. But that’s the thing about those crazy uncles. They are usually stubborn as a mule.