Tag Archives: gold

Kevin Durant: The Nurturing of a Legacy

durant usa

On Thursday, word came out that Kevin Durant decided to pull out of the World Championships. He was slated to be the team’s unquestioned leader and its main focal point offensively. Durant’s departure (and Paul George’s injury) has created a bit of a vacuum at the top of the World Championship team hierarchy. James Harden has the most tenure, but do you really want him being the leader of the group? They’ve brought in Rudy Gay to replace Durant’s scoring punch, but c’mon, it’s Rudy Gay. In seeing all this, many media members piled into Durant for abandoning his USA teammates, even throwing out words like selfish and entitled.

In reality, the kid that would play anytime, anywhere, decided to put himself ahead of basketball for the first time. And that completely shocked people, including myself. This is Durant we’re talking about. Go to your local Y or gym. Durant is the kid with the Nike backpack, high socks, and slides on his feet, walking around waiting for a game to kick off. He loves the game so much that he is willing to play it at any under any circumstance. Rucker Park, sure. Drew League, why not. Goodman League, let’s go. USA Basketball, hooping and patriotism put together? Hell Yeah!

But maybe it’s not Durant that’s being selfish. Maybe it’s us. We want our heroes to be there when we want them. Whether they are athletes or superheroes, we want them there at our beckoning. Every time we send the NBA signal into the sky, we want to see them play. Nine months out of the year isn’t enough. Summer league, USA basketball, preseason. We want our heroes at all times. But what we don’t realize is that heroes break down. One of the major themes in the superhero movies of today, is the physical and mental toll the superhero faces as the movie franchise progresses. Whether it’s Batman breaking down in Dark Knight Rises or Iron Man showing his mental and physical wear in Iron Man 3, this theme is one that resonates with almost everyone.

iron man

The common fact is that we break down as we age. We aren’t necessarily afraid of the number associated with our age, but with the inevitability that as that number increases, our bodies will never be the same. So then why do we chastise a player for taking control of his body and choosing not to expend any more energy than he has to? It’s not like this is Durant’s first foray into international basketball. He was the MVP of the World Championships four years ago and was one of the best players in the Olympics two years ago. Both times, he helped the United States win gold. More than likely, Durant will be there in 2016 leading the United States to gold in the Olympics in Brazil.

If anything, this is a sign of Durant maturing. He is no longer this boy wonder that wants to experience everything that is basketball-related. He is now a seasoned vet that is missing one final piece in the puzzle of his career. It’s the hardest one to obtain and one that usually takes heart-breaks and lessons learned to reach. As far as legacies are concerned, Durant has been a stat stuffer in his seven year career: 1 MVP, 4 scoring titles, 1st Team All-NBA 5 years in a row, Rookie of the Year, etc, etc. The championship is one that still eludes him. After reaching (and losing) the 2012 NBA Finals, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Thunder would be participants in multiples Finals after that. Their core was young and only going to improve, and they just experienced the agony of defeat. But the James Harden trade and injuries in playoff games in consecutive years to Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, have left the Thunder on the outside looking in of the last two NBA Finals.

durant ibaka thunder

Durant is looking at the bigger picture now. He knew he was tired heading into the playoffs last season. It isn’t Durant’s fault the injury bug bit the team hard this past season or that Scott Brooks doesn’t yet know how to manage his superstar’s minutes. But this is the Durant we know. He never complained, never shied away from the challenge. He just put the team on his back night in and night out and led them to the second best record in the league. In the process though, he played the most minutes in the NBA and probably sapped most of his energy reserves that were needed in the playoffs.

And that’s not even looking at the cumulative effect Durant’s career minutes had on last year’s postseason. In his career, Durant has played in 97% of all possible regular season games. In addition he’s played in 77 playoff games and countless pre-season games. When you begin to add international play, you start to get a picture of the toll Durant’s career is starting to have on his body. And its at this point, that Durant probably said, “Enough!” Durant still loves the game. It has been his provider, his refuge, and possibly, his best friend. But at some point, Durant needed to start looking at his most valuable asset (himself) and protecting that. Because, hopefully, he has many more years left in the league and more “stats” to add to that legacy.

It Was All A Dream

“It was all a dream…” The opening line to “Juicy”, one of the greatest rap songs ever written. Christopher “Notorious B.I.G” Wallace’s opening salvo into our collective consciousness was, perhaps, the greatest conveyment of a musical rags-to-riches story. Great things always have a way of starting off small. Facebook started off as a social network for only Ivy League students and had the word ‘the’ in its original title. Microsoft started off as two friends who were great computer programmers. The Oklahoma City Thunder started off as a 23 win franchise that was in the running to be the worst team in league history for much of the season. But, oh, how things have changed. 

From a fan’s perspective, this was a celebration of the Thunder’s first trip to the NBA Finals. From the outside, this just looked like the finality of a four year run that started off very slow, but has been on a uphill trek ever since. But from the inside, this wasn’t just about the last 4 years. That collective cheer that you heard from the Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 06, 2012 at about 10:30 PM was a roar of passion. Passion, not only for the team, but for the state. A roar for ourselves. Not for each collective ‘me’, but instead, for the collective ‘we’. 

 When you are from Oklahoma, you always hark back to THAT day. April 19, 1995. The day innocence was ripped from the hearts of Oklahomans of all ages. The day we learned about evil and heartbreak. But, on April 20, 1995, we got up and started using a new vernacular. We started to live by words like RESILIENCY, COMMUNITY, SACRIFICE, TOGETHER, HUMILITY, HARDWORK. We knew the trek ahead was tough, but we knew it was a trek we would take together. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, 4 years later, the city was struck by what has been called the Monster of all tornadoes. An F5 tornado with multiple vortices, ripped through the southern part of Oklahoma City, destroying the suburb of Moore, Ok and the city of Bridge Creek, Ok. Once again, probably because of the hard lessons learned from the Murrah Building Bombing, we knew how to react to this tragedy and pulled together.  

City leaders, construction workers, politicians, and citizens all stepped up to the plate to improve the namesake city of the state. What was once a warehouse district was transformed into a sprawling entertainment district in the span of 20 years. With those improvements, came a 20,000 seat indoor sports arena originally known as the Ford Center. This would become the hub of our professional sports dream. 

Of course, with any dream, there are obstacles that stand in the way of achieving the ultimate goal. First, was the fact that we were the 44th largest TV market in the United States. While that sounds great in comparing it to the other 25,000 cities in the United States, that doesn’t bode well for any professional sports league looking for an expansion city. Secondly, was that fact that the professional sports leagues weren’t necessarily looking to expand at that time. The NBA last expanded in 2004, MLB in 1998, NFL in 2002, and the NHL in 2000. 

There’s a saying that goes, “When opportunities comes a’knocking, you better open the door.” When the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina happened in September 2005, the New Orleans Hornets were left with no place to play and hardly a populance to play for. Looking to lend a helping hand AND prove our worth as a big league city, Mayor Mick Cornett and city officials lobbied the NBA’s front office for the opportunity to host the Hornets for as long as necessary. While initially down playing the idea, the NBA decided to give Oklahoma City this opportunity of a lifetime and allow the Hornets to play at the Ford Center for what would eventually become 2 seasons. 

And Oklahoma City proved its worth, quickly growing a reputation as one of the loudest fan bases in the league for its adopted team. For those two seasons, the Hornets became synonymous with having a distinct home court advantage. It became OKC’s first foray into professional sports. Chris Paul won Rookie of the Year in his first season in OKC and David West became a burgeoning All-Star. Tyson Chandler became known as one of the best defensive big men in the league and Peja Stojakovic became known as one of the biggest free agency busts in his one season in OKC. And after two seasons, the music stopped. 

It was a bit disappointing when the Hornets left. Its like being in a 2-year relationship with someone that still had ties to their ex, and then being single again when your significant other goes back to their ex. We always knew the Hornets were going back to New Orleans, but the hope of them some how staying in OKC long-term was still in the back of most our minds. But this was no time to hold our heads down. Their was another opportunity to be had, and another team in the horizon. 

Regardless of what you think of the way OKC got the Thunder, the fact still remained that as of July 2008, the Seattle Supersonics ceased to exist and the Oklahoma City Thunder came into existence. Civic pride will make you argue the move until you are blue (Thunder blue, of course) in the face, but Oklahoma City had its team and it was time to show and prove. That first season was brutal, though. We knew we were getting a skeleton crew of a team with some young, unproven talent, but we didn’t know it was going to be this bad. 

The morning after another of our home losses, I called to the local morning sports talk radio show and just vented. I didn’t know if I could do this anymore. Living 90 miles from OKC and having to drive more than an hour each way, made driving back from the mounting losses excruciating. It’s almost like the team was stuck in a rut when it first got here and you had to wonder whether there wasn’t some karmic justice at play at how we had obtained the team. Thankfully, a coaching change and the general improvement of the young players led to a good finish and a hope for the next season. 

We all know what has happened the last two seasons. After a meteoric rise in their second season in OKC, the Thunder made the playoffs as an 8th seed and took the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers to the brink of a 7th game in a riveting first round series. The team’s young stars (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) went on to be the main components for a Team USA squad that won gold in the 2010 World Championships. In the next season, we finished with the 4th seed and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, losing in a close 5-game series to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. Suffice to say, expectations were definitely mounting.

Finally this year, in a season that was on the brink of not happening at all due to labor strife, the team exerted its dominance on most of the league and finished with the 2nd seed in the West. Two things became apparent as we marched towards this point. Number 1: This team was mature beyond its years and eschewed the notion that youth has to wait. Number 2: The home crowd was actually beginning to affect the play of the young Thunder. 

While last season, the Thunder players were the ones being criticized in the postseason, it was our turn, as fans, to be criticized this postseason. It started when the organization began playing games on the huge jumbotron TV outside of the stadium. What became famously known as Thunder Alley started as a small gathering (1000-2000) of fans that could not get tickets to the game, but wanted to experience, first-hand, the atmosphere of being at the playoff game. Eventually that small gathering turned into an all-out block party that some reports say reached as high as 10,000 + spectators in Thunder Alley. When you get that many people in a small space, bad things are bound to happen. Violence erupted after the clinching game of the 2nd round, and the postseason form of Thunder Alley was shut down. It is pretty sad when real fans have to suffer at the expense of a couple knuckleheads. Some people aren’t fortunate enough to be able to afford playoff tickets, but still want to be in the playoff atmosphere. 

Then there were the complaints that we actually wear our free t-shirts that the team supplies to each fan during playoff games. The travesty that fans would wear those shirts and cheer together as one. Who does that? Who cheers every great play and jeers every questionable call? I thought this was the norm for fans. I thought it was par for the course. But, just like everything else, we do things just a little different. We actually feel emotionally attached to our team. I saw grown men and women crying tears of joy for our trip to the Finals. People from the outside will never understand. As we venture into the unknown world of the NBA Finals, we will move forward the only way we know how: Together as one team. #TeamIsOne

Top Five Point Guards in Oklahoma City History

So, I was perusing through the internets and came across this article from Yahoo!Sports, http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=ycn-10388361 . In the article, written by William Menna, it talks about the top 5 point guards in Oklahoma City Thunder history. Before even reading the article, I thought to myselft, “Wow, 3 years in, and we already have a Top 5 point guards in franchise history article. Let me see, Westbrook, Maynor, Watson, Ivey, and Ollie.” Kind of scraping the bottom of the barrell at the end of that list. But then I started reading the article and starting seeing names like Gary Payton, Lenny Wilkens, Gus Johnson, etc. It is then that I realized, “Crap, they are including the Seattle Sonics’s stats also.”

I’m one of those people that has a problem with the combining of Sonics and Thunder history. Its like going through an acrimonious divorce and having your new wife constantly bring up things about your old wife. You just don’t want to listen to it. Let it be known, though, that I have no problem with the emotions being felt by true Sonics fans. Those guys were left without a team and that part of the equation, in my opinion, is just wrong. Especially when its the little guys (a.k.a the fans) that suffer the most. In the 5 years that this team has been on OKC’s radar, I’ve felt every range of emotion towards Seattle and its fans. But, if this lockout has taught me anything, its that, in the grand scheme of things, we’re quite inconsequential. The other thing that it has made me realize is that missing basketball games sucks ass.

In reading this article, I realized the list of OKC Thunder point guards may be quite small, but the list of combined OKC Hornets and Thunder point guards can be enough to make a respectable Top 5 list. Yeah, you remember those OKC Hornets teams, right? The ones that played a combined 71 of 82 home games in the state of Oklahoma in 2 seasons spanning from November 2005 to April 2007. Here’s some pictures to remind you:

Using these 5 seasons of Oklahoma City basketball, here’s the list of the Top 5 point guards in OKC basketball history.

Disclaimer: Combo guards will also be included as point guards. They are just point guards that primarily score, anyways.

5. Speedy Claxton (OKC Hornets ’05-’06):

In his one season in Oklahoma City, Claxton provided good veteran leadership off the bench while mentoring the rookie Chris Paul. He averaged 12.3 points, 4.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Though about 4 inches shorter than Chris Paul, he was sometimes inserted in the lineup as the shooting guard in small ball situations.

4. Eric Maynor (OKC Thunder ’09-’10 – present):

Maynor has been the guiding touch for the second unit off the bench in each of his seasons with the Thunder.  He is the antithesis to Russell Westbrook and provides a nice semblance of change when in the game. He has averaged 4.5 points and 3.1 assists in his 2 seasons with the Thunder and continues to improve and build upon his national acclaim as best back-up point guard in the game.

3. Bobby Jackson (OKC Hornets ’06-’07):

Brought in to replace Speedy Claxton, Bobby Jackson brought an instant spark off the bench as one of the premier combo guards in the league. Used primarily as a point guard, Jackson’s quickness helped the Hornets whether the storm of losing their best 3 players for the 1st quarter of the season to stay afloat for enough time to contend for a playoff spot until the final week of the season. His averages of 10.6 points and 2.5 assists don’t measure how valuable Jackson was for that team that season.

2. Russell Westbrook (OKC Thunder ’08-’09 – present):

One of the most dynamic players in the league, Westbrook (along with Derrick Rose and John Wall) is redefining what a point guard is in the league. This is what the game envisioned when it inserted the Hand Check rule before the ’04-’05 season. Someone that constantly puts pressure on the defense, while working his way into the lane. While still a work in progress, Westbrook has averaged 17.8 points, 7.1 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game in his career, increasing his points, assists, and steals averages every season.  In his young career, he has already made an All Star game, been named to 2nd team All-NBA, won a World Championship gold medal, and led a team to the Western Conference finals. Although he is still learning the nuances of the position, there is no doubt that if his career trajectory continues in a similar fashion, he may undoubtly wrestle the No. 1 spot from this guy…

1. Chris Paul (OKC Hornets ’05-’06 – ’06-’07)

The current gold standard for NBA point guards, Chris Paul started off his career as a member of Your Hometown Hornets, becoming Oklahoma City’s only Rookie of the Year recipient. While still in the traditional point guard mold, Chris Paul was the beginning in a breed of point guards that do most of their damage driving to the hole and breaking the defense down while in the paint. Owning, probably, the best court vision in the league, Paul has led the league in assists twice and averaged close to double figures for his career. In it, he has averaged 18.7 points, 9.9 assists, 4.6 boards, and 2.4 steals in 6 seasons. He is the only player in league history to lead the league in assists and steals in the same season for 2 consecutive seasons. That’s John Stockton territory right there. He’s been named to 4 All Star games, 1 All-NBA team, 1 All-Defensive First team, has won 1 Olympic gold medal, and has been to 1 Western Conference Championship. Although injuries derailed Paul the last few seasons, he seems to be getting over that and getting back to his elite form.

The only negative part to most “Top 5 Whatevers Within the same Franchise” is that you’ll probaby never see any of the players on the list play against each other. You’ll never get to see Rajon Rondo vs. Bob Cousy. Or Yao Ming vs. Hakeem Olajuwon. But the great thing about this list is that you will hopefully see Westbrook and Paul duke it out for the better part of their primes for the next decade. And the only reason they’ll be duking it out, is for OKC point guard supremacy, right?