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Thunder fans need to find something to hate about Nene

by Jenni Carlson Published: April 15, 2011

You're going to need to channel your inner Kendrick Perkins, Thunder fans.

The target: Nene.

On a team that has its share of colorful characters to play the bad-guy role, the Nuggets center has become Public Enemy No. 1 in the Thunder Nation. First, he went toe-to-toe and forehead-to-forehead with Perkins, then he tussled with the Thunder big man again a few days later. Now, he's coming to town for a wild, wild Western Conference showdown.

Sure hope he's not expecting the Welcome Wagon.

In Oklahoma City, this guy is the face of the franchise that stands between the Thunder and an extended stay in the playoffs.

So, Thunder fans, why not direct some vitriol toward the one-name wonder when the series starts Sunday? Why not bring a little hate?

That's what Perkins does. He picks something that he doesn't like about a guy, then stews about it. He more he thinks about it, the more miffed he becomes.

It seems to work pretty well considering Perkins walks into the arena looking like he wants to break someone in half.

Now, the question is, what's it going to be about Nene that gets the bad blood brewing?

I mean, this guy isn't exactly Attila the Hun. He's actually been called a gentle giant.

(Can't you just hear Perk retching right now?)

Truth be told, Nene has a pretty hard-luck story. He grew up in Sao Carlos, Brazil, in a tiny, cinder-block, tin-roof house. Six people shared the two-bedroom house.

After he was drafted, the rest of the family moved to an upscale apartment in downtown Sao Carlos.

The reason: they worried about someone being kidnapped and held for ransom.

Basketball courts were few and far between in Sao Carlos. Soccer was the sport of choice, but local basketball enthusiasts made do. They attached basketball goals to the backs of two Jeeps, then drove them to empty parking lots and parked them 95 feet apart.

Instant basketball court.

The rims were made the wires, the nets with shoelaces and fishing net.

Somehow, Nene made his way to the NBA as the seventh overall pick in the 2002 draft.

Three years later, he blew out his knee.

Three years after that, he discovered that he had testicular cancer. He took a leave of absence to undergo treatment.

He had surgery on Jan. 14, 2008.

All the while, his then fiancée, now wife Lauren Prothe was having blurred vision and migraines. Doctors determined she had a small benign tumor on her pituitary gland.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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THE NENE FILE

Position: Center/Forward

Height: 6-foot-11

Weight: 250 pounds

Born: Sept. 13, 1982 in Sao Carlos, Brazil

Years pro: 8

2010-11 averages: 14.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.0 blocks

Career averages: 12.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.9 blocks

Nene was a nickname given to Maybyner Rodney Hilario, who was the youngest in his family and always hung out with a group of older kids. “Nene” means “baby” in Portuguese. He legally changed his name to it in 2003.

Plays bass guitar.

Diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2008. He missed more than two months of the 2007-08 season, but the following season, he had a career year with career-high averages in points and rebounds.

Favorite teams are soccer squads — Sao Paulo in the Brazilian league and FC Barcelona.

Does extensive charity work in his homeland of Brazil, including hosting a gospel event there for the past three summers and sponsoring more than 50 athletes in his hometown.

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