During its first 2 1/2 seasons of existence, the Thunder was viewed as a "soft" team.
Then Kendrick Perkins arrived in a Feb. 24, 2011, trade with the Boston Celtics. OKC instantaneously became much less gooey and has solidified itself a little more each day since.
There is perhaps nothing more insulting to an athlete than to be called soft. Thunder players certainly didn't like being thought of as soft before Perkins arrived, and they don't like being reminded of it now.
"I never thought we were soft," point guard Russell Westbrook said. "I don't know where that came from. I never heard that, honestly. This is my first time hearing it, so I really don't have an answer for you."
Westbrook has a selective memory. Because if it weren't true, why trade for Perkins in the first place?
Perk's surly mojo is precisely what lured general manager Sam Presti to make the deal, which has been a huge success, given the Thunder's appearance in the Western Conference Finals last season and a 59-23 (.720) overall record with Perkins in the starting lineup.
Obtaining veteran center Nazr Mohammed from Charlotte that same day also hardened OKC's inner core with a championship presence, with Perkins and Mohammed having each won a world title.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said there is a much better word to describe the demeanor of his team in the early years.
"I wouldn't say we were soft," Brooks said. "We were young, and when you're young, you're still trying to learn about yourself, you're trying to learn about the league. You don't have time to focus on little things because you're trying to just survive. You're in survive mode.
"I don't think we were ever soft. I don't look at Kevin (Durant) as soft. I look back now at Kevin as just a young, 19-year-old. He was a young man. Now he's becoming a man and with maturity you get tougher and you get stronger. Your mental approach to the game has kind of matured."
OKC reserve forward Nick Collison, who has been with the Seattle/OKC franchise since he arrived as a rookie in 2003, didn't agree with the team's connotation as "soft."
"I don't know if we were soft before or if we're soft now," Collison said. "I think we've learned how to play physical and we've learned that's to our advantage. That again comes with experience, just going through something and you find a better way to do something."
Veteran point guard Derek Fisher was with the Los Angeles Lakers two seasons ago when they eliminated the Thunder 4-2 in the opening round of the playoffs.
When told the Thunder's previous reputation, Fisher seemed surprised.
"I guess I wasn't aware of that particular moniker for the team," said Fisher, who signed with the Thunder as a free agent on March 21. "I know 'youth' was more of the term that was thrown around a lot (with the Thunder), but there's no question that any team that Perk is on is going to be a team that is more competitive, more passionate, more about the team and less about himself. That's just what type of guy Perk is.
"That's why he makes every team he's been on better, not because of anything that is about bringing focus to himself. He does all the little things that help everybody else be successful. That's what winning is about, making sacrifices and that's what Perk brings for us."
Whether or not the Thunder was correctly viewed as soft has become irrelevant, because the team certainly has not been viewed that way since the Perkins trade.
This season's playoff series between the Thunder and defending world champion Dallas Mavericks became a war of words between coaches after Game 1 and moved onto the court in the first quarter of Game 2 with a shoving match between Perkins and Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki, who were each assessed a technical foul.
Game 3 is 8:30 p.m. Thursday at American Airlines Center in Dallas, and although both sides said they do not envision an escalation in physicality, don't look for OKC to back down anytime soon.
"I think we play better when we play physical, especially in the playoffs because the games get more physical," Collison said. "Games slow down — screening, getting over screens, all those small little battles within a possession. We've just gotten better at fighting through that stuff."