Kendrick Perkins never had heard of Jack Sikma.
Oh, wait. Maybe he has.
“S-i-k-m-a?” Perkins asked.
Yep, that's him. The guy keeping Perkins from wearing on his jersey the number, 43, that's tattooed on his shoulder.
Sikma, the seven-time Sonic All-Star (1979-85), now is a Rockets assistant coach, which is how Perkins summoned the name. But Seattle fans remember the 6-foot-11 blonde (think Ivan Drago, with a smile) as a cornerstone player on a glorious team.
Turns out the cord has not been completely cut from the Seattle SuperSonics. Turns out the Thunder still honors the retired numbers from Seattle days.
Gus Williams' 1. Nate McMillan's 10. Lenny Wilkens' 19. Spencer Haywood's 24. Downtown Freddie Brown's 32. Jack Sikma's 43.
Who knew? While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were making their own All-Star careers, and Sam Presti shuffled cards that eventually brought Perkins to town, six green jerseys sat in purgatory, Seattle's Museum of History & Industry, off limits to the Thunder.
Not out of spite to Seattle. Not out of honor to some great old Sonics. Not out of some kind of skewed sense of history.
Nope, the Thunder clings to this thread of Seattle for something much more defining of the American spirit.
Fear of litigation.
The settlement between Clay Bennett's ownership and the city of Seattle, which freed this NBA franchise to hang out an Oklahoma shingle, provided in some detail how this messy divorce was to handle the transition. Stuff like leaving the Sonics name and colors in Seattle.
And nowhere in there does it say anything about making Kendrick Perkins feel at home.
The Thunder plan is to live by the letter of the law, which is this. If Seattle obtains a new NBA franchise within five years of the July 2008 agreement, the Thunder, upon request, will transfer the franchise's banners, trophies and retired jerseys to the new Seattle owners, provided that the new Sonics acknowledge a “shared history” with the Thunder franchise.
Now, if there's no NBA team in Seattle by July 2013, the Thunder can do whatever the heck it wants. It can wear Sonic throwbacks, display the 1979 NBA Championship trophy on a Bricktown gondola and use Jack Sikma's No. 43 to wipe down Nissans at a fundraising car wash.
But here's what the Thunder ought to do. Give back the memories.
The historical record? Fine. Keep it or share it. Doesn't matter. You can't change history. This isn't Stalinist Russia. You can't just declare the new Sonics the old Sonics. The Mets aren't the Dodgers. The Brewers aren't the Braves. And no matter what the NFL says, the new Browns aren't the old Browns.
That '79 championship trophy? I can see it being shared. Leave the original in Seattle, but the Thunder franchise did win that title. Even when Durant and Westbrook win their own hardware, you can't go dismissing what the franchise achieved in 1979. Those trophies are too hard to win.
But memories are different. And that's why retired jerseys exist. To honor heroes and fuel memories.
Jack Sikma and Lenny Wilkens and Downtown Freddie Brown never played in Oklahoma City, much less found cheers here.
Sikma's legacy belongs to Seattle, not OKC. Fans in Oklahoma don't have Jack Sikma memories. We saw those great Seattle teams in 1978 and 1979 play on television. But now he's no more part of this franchise's fabric than is Truck Robinson or Dave Cowens.
Every time I go to the Fiesta Bowl, I laugh at the retired numbers hanging from University of Phoenix Stadium.
Larry Wilson's No. 8 and J.V. Cain's 88. Both were St. Louis Cardinals and never played for the team in Phoenix. Even more absurd, Stan Mauldin's 77 and Marshall Goldberg's 99. Both were Chicago Cardinals.
I know, the Bidwill family has owned the Cardinals since Chicago days. But a franchise's history and legacy doesn't belong to a family or an owner. It belongs to a city and a fan base.
I understand why the Thunder continues to respect the retired numbers of Seattle greats. It's judicially prudent.
Give Kendrick Perkins No. 43, and someone could use it as means to reopen the court case. Claim that the Thunder has broken the agreement, even though most Sonic fans would prefer the revered numbers be used in Oklahoma City. Most Sonic fans consider it an abomination that the Thunder would try to hold onto any Seattle ties, particularly when it comes to honoring their heroes.
And they're right. Jack Sikma's retired jersey should hang from rafters in Seattle. Or sit in a Seattle museum. It shouldn't hang in OKC. It shouldn't be off limits to Kendrick Perkins.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
Here's a look at why the Thunder players wear the numbers they do:
* 0 Russell Westbrook: Wore No. 4 at UCLA, but Collison had that with the Thunder, so Westbrook took 0. He wanted a single-digit number.
* 2 Thabo Sefolosha: Chose No. 2 with the Bulls because he was born on May 2. Wanted No. 25 with Chicago (second day, fifth month), but it was taken.
* 3 Nate Robinson: His favorite number is 2, for Deion Sanders. Robinson wore No. 2 at the University of Washington. But when Robinson got to the Knickerbockers, Maurice Taylor had No. 2, so Robinson wore No. 4. With the Thunder, Thabo Sefolosha has No. 2 and Nick Collison No. 4, so Robison took No. 3. “I've got three kids, and Allen Iverson's one of my favorite players,” Robinson said.
* 4 Nick Collison: Wore No. 44 in high school, but at Kansas, Eric Chenoweth already had 44, so Collison took 4 and has kept it.
* 5 Kendrick Perkins: 43, his high school and Celtics number, is retired from Sonic days (Jack Sikma), so Perkins chose No. 5, because Kevin Garnett told him to.
* 6 Eric Maynor: Wanted to keep his No. 3 when he arrived from the Jazz in December 2009, but D.J. White had that number. So Maynor took 6 because he wanted to stay with a single digit.
* 7 Royal Ivey: Wore 12 in high school, 24 at Texas and 36 with the Hawks. “48 was too much,” Ivey said. So he took 7 because this is his seventh year in the league. With the trade of Nenad Krstic, Ivey might switch back to No. 12 next season.
* 8 Nazr Mohammed: Mohammed wore No. 13 with the Bobcats, but that's James Harden's number. So Mohammed took 8 to honor Antoine Walker, his teammate at Kentucky who wore No. 8 with the Celtics.
* 9 Serge Ibaka: Ibaka's father wore No. 9 with the Congo national team.
* 13 James Harden: The only freshman on his high school varsity, Harden had last pick of a jersey number. His options were 13 and something in the 40s. Harden has been 13 ever since.
* 14 Daequan Cook: Wore No. 7 in AAU, but that's not an allowable number in high school, so he doubled it and has kept it.
* 23 Byron Mullens: Wore No. 32 at Ohio State, but that number is retired from SuperSonic days (Fred Brown). Mullens then wanted No. 0, but Russell Westbrook had that. So Mullens went with 23, 32 backwards.
* 35 Kevin Durant: Wears 35 to honor Chucky Craig, the youth coach who instilled basketball passion in Durant. In 2005, Craig was shot and killed at the age of 35.
* 45 Cole Aldrich: Has worn 45 since he was a 5-foot-10 third-grader. The biggest jerseys had the highest numbers.