COLUMN: Collison helped Thunder build culture

AP Photo by Rob FergusonFormer Oklahoma City Thunder player Nick Collison speaks during a ceremony to retire his number, before an NBA basketball game between the Thunder and the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY — On the day Nick Collison’s No. 4 was raised to the Chesapeake Energy Arena rafters, marking 14 selfless seasons with the franchise that became the Oklahoma City Thunder, the sentence he uttered in which his voice first cracked was this:

“Like,” he said, “I just wanted to play for my high school team.”

How about that?

In that moment, two things, perhaps three, became imminently clear.

One, Collison has come a long way from Iowa Falls, Iowa. Two, no matter how far he’s come, he still carries it with him. And three, yeah, that’s just the kind of guy a team can build a culture around.

About that culture:

“For me, it was just about doing my job,” he said. “And whatever experiences I had before I got here, the way I viewed playing in my job as a basketball player, was to do as much as I could, to do whatever it took, to the best of my ability, to help the team win, and just do that day after day after day. And I think that’s what the culture is here, just doing the work day after day.”

He said that in the interview room, more than three hours before he said more on the court, surrounded by family, teammates, and interrupted again and again by the fans, many of which were wearing his jersey.

“I’ve always loved my teammates,” Collison said. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is help them win. I’ve never had another agenda.”

Yes, Kevin Durant was somewhere in the building, as were other former teammates.

The original and forgotten Thunder coach, P.J. Carlesimo, was on hand, too. Yet, none of them were a part of the ceremony, nor even down on the court, but watching from a suite above.

That seemed right.

On Collison’s day, it was all about Collison and the people who stood directly behind him as he addressed the crowd.

Though his sister could not make it, his brother and his brother’s wife stood over his right shoulder. His parents were next to them. Then his girlfriend, who he explained was also his best friend. Then his daughter, Emma, who recently turned 13 and, apparently, had finished her social studies home work before showing up on the court.

Anyway, that’s what her father said, a moment or two after regaining his composure upon introducing her.

It was a moving and touching scene, even if it didn’t quite move the Thunder to play much defense in the first quarter that followed.

The Thunder trailed 39-31 after the opening frame. And, if any of those watching were wondering what it might take to get Collison to join OKC again, only this time its coach, it would appear the man himself has thought about it, too.

Right now, he doesn’t have the time. He wants to watch Emma grow up and doesn’t have the hours to commit.

Perhaps later.

“I think in the future it could be something I could be interested in,” Collison said. “I think it’s something that could come natural to me. As a player, that’s more what you’re used to, [being] on the court trying to figure out how to win games.”

What he sounded like was a guy trying to figure out his next move.

“I don’t know for sure,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m excited about it.”

Also, one more thing the Thunder got right about the night? The location of Collison’s raised number.

Basically, its directly above the far edge of OKC’s bench, all alone, crowded out by nothing, like a moon on a cloudless night.

Eventually, Collison will have company up there in the rafters. Wednesday night, and for many more to come, he’ll stand alone, a representation of him watching over the franchise he helped put on the map.