Vince Carter is a 6-foot-6, 220-pounder known for his athleticism. And when he wants to deliver a vicious elbow, like the one he planted on the side of Steven Adams' face back in November, you know it's coming with some force.
Didn't seem like the Thunder rookie even felt it.
Larry Sanders is a 6-foot-11, 235-pounder with a publicized mean streak. He made headlines after a Milwaukee bar fight earlier this season and again this past Saturday, when he connected with a pair of forearm shivers to Adams' head, leading to an ejection.
Didn't seem like the Thunder rookie even noticed.
How could that be?
“Have you seen my sister?” Adams said, when asked about his ability to take a beating. “Look her up, bro.”
When it comes to New Zealand sports, there might not be a hotter name right now than Steven Adams. But if you were to name the competitors, Valerie Adams would likely be at the top of that list.
She's one of the greatest women's shot putters in the world.
At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds — weighing more than Carter, Sanders, Serge Ibaka and 90 percent of all other NBA players — Valerie is a supreme athlete. She won Olympic gold for the shot put in 2008 and 2012. And, with a streak that dates back to 2007, she became the first woman in history to win four consecutive individual titles at the world track and field championships, regardless of event.
So when Steven says that a Carter elbow or Sanders forearm doesn't compare to some of his childhood roughhousing, you tend to believe him.
He's the youngest of 18 kids. The females average 6-feet. The males average 6-feet, 9-inches.
“She's strong,” Steven said of Valerie. “My family is really strong. So getting hit by them is really painful. But you can't say something about it, especially being the youngest. If you're the youngest and you say something, you'll get more hits.”
And that didn't just go for his home life. It also translated over to the rugby field, a popular New Zealand sport that was Steven's first love growing up.
“Dudes in rugby in that pile, they get punched, kneed and all that,” he said. “They could be bleeding and stuff, they still have to go on and play.”
And Adams has brought that tough-as-nails mentality into his first year in the NBA.
Even at 20, he's already one of the most physical players in the league, constantly battling in the post, tussling for rebounding position, setting bruising screens and inviting any and all contact.
Including preseason, four players have been ejected for retaliating against Adams' physical style. And each time, Adams has brushed it off with a laugh and face of confusion, almost as if he's confused that the game was stopped for nothing more than a little elbow to the face.
“He always comes over to the bench and says, ‘What'd I do?'” Thunder teammate Perry Jones joked. “And we all get a little laugh out of it.”
Nick Collison, a 10-year veteran, said Reggie Evans was the only other guy he played with who had that kind of demeanor.
“When he gets hit, it doesn't bother him,” Collison said. “He doesn't take it personally like a lot of guys in our league do, where they think someone is out to get them.”
In the immediate, it helps the Thunder in two ways: Adams' bruising style gives them a needed interior presence. And his rare ability to entice technicals and ejections continues to produce unforeseen advantages.
But in the long-term, it bodes even better for Adams, who is rapidly developing an offensive skill set and overall awareness to pair with that rare strength and poise.
The future is bright.
“He's as tough as I've been around, any player,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “Every day, he just plays. The elbows, the pushes, nothing fazes him. All he cares about is eating a lot of food and playing basketball.”
Below is video of all four of the times Adams has enticed an ejection this season: