Now a chiseled 6-foot-10, 275-pound hulk, Perkins sat inside the Thunder locker room the other night telling the tales of his youth.
“The thing about it is,” he said, then paused for a long moment.
The skin between his eyebrows crinkled.
“I grew up and my whole goal ... was not only to make it to the NBA but I just had it on my mind to get my grandparents out of this situation. If you see the house I grew up in, I was like, ‘I've just got to make it better for my family.'
“That was my whole motivation — to get them out.”
* * *
Stand in the front yard of the lemon-yellow clapboard house on Glenwood Avenue, and you can see Ozen High School where Perkins would become a star. Stand in front of the main gym there, and you can see Our Mother of Mercy.
That became Perkins' world.
The church was the axis.
“With my grandparents,” he said, “I had to be very involved in the church.”
Simply going to church wasn't what they had in mind either.
“My grandfather was one of the head ushers at the church,” Perkins said, “so I started out being an usher.”
Then, he tried the choir.
“That didn't work out.”
Then, he played drums.
“That didn't work out.”
Then in seventh grade, he tried his hand at altar service and found a fit.
Over the next six years as Perkins became a superstar at Ozen and the basketball world was telling him how talented and great and special he was, he would go to Our Mother of Mercy and serve the church. Light candles. Carry incense. Hold books. Whatever the priest needed during Mass, he would do.
“I know one thing,” he said, “it teaches you to be grateful, it teaches you to be humble at all times, it teaches you to treat everybody with respect.”
Perfect, Perkins admits, he is not.
He's no Holy Roller or Bible thumper either, but he knows what he believes.
“I'm one person who strongly believes that the same people you see on your way up are the same people you see on your way down,” he said, “so at the end of the day ... being respectful is huge to me.”
It's why he built a house in Beaumont for his grandparents. Why he gave a sizable donation to Our Mother of Mercy. Why he started a youth basketball camp back home and paid for everything out of his pocket.
But maybe there's no more touching example of his heart than this: “I've got a million homeboys, but my best man in my wedding was my grandfather.”
Perkins paused and nodded.
“When you really think about the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,' I think everybody kind of pulled together and leaned in a little bit and helped.”
* * *
Kendrick Perkins is like no other player who's ever worn a Thunder uniform. He's an enforcer. An intimidator who will send a message with a hard foul. A tormentor who isn't afraid to get in an opponent's face.
Yet all we've heard for the past week or so is how much he's like the rest of these guys.
Listen to people around the team and you'll hear talk about how Perkins fits the fabric of the franchise.
“His game face is just what it is — his game face,” Perkins' high school coach and mentor Andre Boutte said. “That's his job face. When you're out there doing your job — and he has a blue-collar type of job that he has to do — it's not a position for smiling.”
Just because the big fellow looks differently and plays differently than the rest of these guys doesn't mean he's hard-wired differently. Players who are solid and grounded, who are more likely to make you proud than embarrassed have become a hallmark of this franchise.
Listen to people who've crossed paths with Perkins over the years — teammates, fans, reporters, coaches — and you won't hear anything bad about him. No knucklehead moves. No jerky attitudes. No unsavory episodes.
Then again, what'd you expect from Mr. Scowl?
This guy's an altar boy.