Nick Collison notices nothing different about the ovations when he checks into games at the Ford Center. His coach sure does. "When I sub for him,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, "I stand up.”
He smiled. " ‘I’m going to share this with you, Nick.’ ” Collison has never been an All-Star. The Thunder big man probably never will be either. He’s not the fastest or the strongest. He’s not the most athletic or the most skilled. But no one plays the game any harder. In a blue-collar city and a hard-working state, Collison has become a fan favorite. Listen the next time he enters a game, and you’ll notice the energy. Pay attention when he bats a rebound to a teammate or stops an opponent from getting to the basket, and you’ll hear the approval. Collison does notice that. Appreciates it, too. "I pride myself on that,” he said. "It means a lot to me if fans appreciate what I do.” That Thunder fans have taken to Collison is no small accomplishment. The most-entrenched holdover from the Seattle Sonics days didn’t always say things that enamored folks in Oklahoma City. Now before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight — Collison has never said anything bad about Oklahoma City. Of course, he’s never hidden his love of Seattle either. He’s talked about how much of a shame it was that the Sonics had to leave. He’s tweeted about how great a place the Emerald City is to live. He’s continued to live there in the off-season. Nothing wrong with any of that. Nothing at all. Yet, this Oklahoma City-Seattle battle has been contentious from the start. Say something good about one city, and it can be seen as a slight to the other. None of that is what comes up when Thunder fans talk about Collison. "I love to watch him play because he leaves everything on the court and always gives his all,” Edmond resident Leesa Green said. She even bought a No. 4 Collison jersey that she wears to games. Waylon Ash hasn’t purchased any No. 4 garb, but the Shawnee resident who played basketball as a kid and now coaches youth league for his kids has a deep appreciation for the way Collison plays. His fundamentals. His attitude. His grit. Ash recalled the Thunder’s one-point victory over the Jazz on New Year’s Eve. That night, Collison hit the game-winning free throws with 4.5 seconds remaining. "Nick is humble and gives whatever he can when he is on the court,” Ash said. "He is not going to win a beauty pageant or be the poster child for Nike, but he can surprise you with his grass-roots style of basketball.” Those roots extend back to Iowa where Collison was born and raised. The son of a high school basketball coach, he grew up in the gym and around the game.