by Jenni Carlson
Modified: April 13, 2010 at 4:22 pm •
Published: February 21, 2010
/articleid/3441188/1/pictures/860332"> Thunder forward Nick Collison, right, may not be the most talented player on the team, but no one out-works him. PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN
He watched the practices. He heard the halftime speeches.
He learned more than X’s and O’s.
"You should play the game for the right reasons, and that’s to try to win and try to do things to help your team win,” Collison said. "Every play, there’s situations where you can help your team.”
And he plays like he wants to capitalize on those opportunities on every play.
It not only helps his team but also prolongs his career.
"I think NBA-wise, I have average talent,” Collison admitted. "I don’t think I’m playing over my head athletic-wise, but I also know there’s a lot of guys that are probably more talented than me that aren’t able to play. I think it’s because I’m able to do things to figure out how to help the team.”
New Year’s Eve, that meant hitting the game-winning free throws, but most nights, Collison’s contributions are less obvious. Tipping a rebound to Jeff Green. Screening a defender so Kevin Durant can get a clean look. Taking a charge. Encouraging a rookie.
"He’s like the glue to our team,” Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook said.
Brooks said, "You can never get enough guys that all they want to do is help the team be successful.”
On Tuesday night, that meant blocking a shot. The Thunder had watched their double-digit lead over the Mavericks dwindle to eight points, and when Shawn Marion eyed a shot from close range, it looked like Dallas would draw within two possessions.
But Collison came from the other block, swatting the shot, then punching the rebound to a teammate as he tight roped the out-of-bounds line.
The crowd roared.
The Thunder scored the game’s next seven points and won going away.
"If you look on a score sheet, I’m probably not going to impress too many people,” said Collison, who had eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks against the Mavericks. "But ... fans really are the most important thing to making the league work. There’d be no NBA without people wanting to come see the games.
"To get positive feedback from fans is huge.”
The admiration is mutual.
Collison, after all, is Oklahoma City’s kind of player. This is a place where teamwork is a hallmark. It was there after the bombing. It is there every time a tornado roars through or ice storm bears down. It is the heart of the Oklahoma Standard.
We get after it and get the job done.
Ditto for Collison.
"Our city, I see why they love him,” Brooks said. "Other than him being 6-10, they see themselves out there probably playing the same way.”
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...