James Naismith hung a peach basket in 1891 and invented a game in Springfield, Mass. Twenty-five years later, across the Atlantic, James Joyce published a novel and called it “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”
Both works panned out rather well. Naismith's sport is the world's most popular. Joyce's book was ranked the third-greatest English-language novel of the 20th century.
Neither lived long enough to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder -- Naismith died in 1939, Joyce two years later – which is a shame. Both would have appreciated what we have here in OKC.
One heck of a basketball team, great before its time, because these young men are serious about their art.
And so The Oklahoman celebrates the tipoff of the Thunder's fifth season in OKC with this special section. We focus on the artists in our midst.
For basketball truly is an art. Football is science. Oh, it's a lot of other things, too, including speed, power and violence. But at the highest level, it's mostly science. This alignment means this adjustment. This look requires this read. This defense demands this offense.
Football players study their sport.
Basketball players play their sport. Basketball is a mosaic. Basketball is fluid. Basketball is not scripted. Basketball is improv.
Basketball is art. Kevin Durant's clutch shooting. Russell Westbrook's relentlessness. Serge Ibaka's shot-blocking. Kendrick Perkins' command of the post. Nick Collison's collisions.
This is a team that was ridiculously young when it announced its arrival as an NBA threat and hasn't gotten much older since. Last season, the Thunder made the NBA Finals even though its four best players were less than 24 years old.
The Thunder keeps improving rapidly. Still young men, the portrait of these artists continues to change, for the better.
The baby Boomers still amaze their coach.
“Definitely raises eyebrows quite a bit,” said Scotty Brooks. “Just the effort and consistency they perform every night, every practice.
“It's something we have to continue to do in order to keep improving at the level we improve at. A lot of players don't do that consistently. I'm not saying we have the only guys in the league that do that, but we have a large group of players that give effort every single day.”
The Boomers are part starving artists. Starved for that championship, which was painfully evident last June, after losing four straight to the Miami Heat following a Game 1 win in the NBA Finals.
But the Boomers also are part tortured artists. They seem to be driven to change. Unwilling to accept the status quo, even when that status quo is NBA elite.
“They're very skilled, but they work with the effort that they're not skilled,” Brooks said, a compliment if ever there was one.
“For Kevin to be able to do that the things he does at 6-10 … he's as quick as most two-guards in this league that are six inches shorter than him. Russell, obviously, his skill and his ability, the way he comes back every year a little bit better. Serge has come back better.”
They are artists, they are young men nearing their primes and enjoy their portraits while you can, for they most definitely will change.
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 FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.