I just found one more reason to love Kendrick Perkins. His humanity. The guy who plays NBA basketball with a scowl on his face showed his human side with his Boston homecoming. The Thunder’s game at Boston on Monday night was Perk’s first back in Beantown since the trade last February that jettisoned him from the organization he loved.
And Perkins, the ultimate tough guy, didn’t act tough when it came to the reunion. He admitted he felt a special kinship with coach Doc Rivers, with his former teammates, with the Boston fans, with just about everything in Celtic green. Before the game, Perkins embraced Rivers. During the first timeout, after a minute-long video tribute was played, Perk walked onto the court to acknowledge the cheers of the Garden fans.
Both before and after the game, Perkins acknowledged his love affair with the Celtics. You can read Darnell Mayberry’s excellent story about the relationship here.
Perkins said he’ll always be a “Celtic at heart,” and you know what? I have no problem with that. I like it that Perk admits that people and a place were important to him. I think that speaks well of Perk as a person. I think in whatever organization we’re in — work, school, friendships, church, doesn’t matter — it’s important to surround yourself with people with those kinds of values. It can only pay off.
I like to call Perkins “Gran Torino,” for his Clint Eastwood persona in protecting the paint and doing his job. But in the macho world of professional sports, it’s heartening to hear an athlete admit that a place, and people, meant much to him.
In a TNT interview with David Aldridge, Perkins said that Sunday, “I was calling people, asking them, if I cry, should I let it out or what. At the end of the day, it’s just a bond I have with the city of Boston. Not only the whole organization, when you win a championship and grow from an 18-year-old boy to a 26-year-old man, it’s just something that you can’t cut with scissors and say it’s not there no more.”
See what I mean by humanity? I love that. And I love that Rivers, a grizzled coach, can keep his ties to a player wearing a different color.
“I don’t ever call it coaching against players, because I can’t go out there and guard them,” Rivers said before the game Monday night. “I wish I could foul the hell out of him but I can’t. But it is going to be different, and I’m glad it’s here and we can get it over with. Because he meant a lot to me.”
Perkins (and Nate Robinson) were traded to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. The trade was mostly money-related for Boston. Celtic general manager Danny Ainge seemed to think he would fail to sign Perkins to a new contract. A few days after the trade, Perk signed a four-year extension with the Thunder.
“It was a business move and that’s what happened,’’ Perkins said. “You never know what was going on. You never know whose call it was. I strongly believe that it wasn’t Doc’s call. You never know if it came from ownership or what.”
Gran Torino left no doubt who is his favorite team, aside from the Thunder. “I don’t ever wish bad for them,” he said of the Celtics. “I watch all their games, wish that they do good, because I grew up with those guys — KG (Kevin Garnett), Paul (Pierce), and the relationship I have with (Rajon) Rondo. It’s not like I have a grudge or anything like that. There’s no bad blood.’’
Well, not much. Just because it was Boston doesn’t mean Perkins plays with less passion. With the clock running down, less than 10 seconds left, in what would be a 97-88 Thunder victory, Boston’s Mickael Pietrus drove in for what would have been an inconsequential layup. Sorry, said Gran Torino. Perkins leveled Pietrus. Get off my lawn. No easy layups.
Thunder coach Scotty Brooks used the occasion to remove Perkins from the game, giving the Boston crowd one last chance to show their appreciation. He received a nice ovation, though not anything like he received before the game.
“The great thing about it is my role hasn’t changed,” Perkins said on TNT. “I come from a great situation to another great situation, where I can just be myself. I don’t have to worry about doing too much. Just being a veteran leader. Other than that, I don’t have to worry about nothing else. That’s the great thing about it. The whole city of Oklahoma and the whole organization just embraced me. I tell you what, the way they went about things helped a whole lot.”