Serge Ibaka casually slipped on a pair of crimson and cream canvas high-tops just before leaving the locker room, immaculately dressed as usual.
He was fresh and feeling good Friday night, which became clear when Ibaka was asked the brand of the stylish sneakers. Typically reserved, Ibaka decided to have some fun following his sixth double-double of the season in the Thunder's 24-point win over Philadelphia.
“What, these?” Ibaka asked in his customary accent. “These are Air Congo's.”
The kicks actually were a high-priced pair from the Louis Vuitton line. Ibaka's light-hearted response, however, elicited memories of the celebratory move to which he attached the same moniker.
“Only after nasty dunks,” Ibaka said when asked what happened to his arm-spreading routine.
Ibaka's “Air Congo” celebration and his signature finger wag after filthy blocked shots have been infrequent sightings this season.
“Dikembe Mutombo told me the next time I do it I have to give him a check,” Ibaka said, referring to the league's second all-time leading shot blocker who popularized the finger wag.
Fashion aside, Ibaka is just fine substituting style for substance this season.
In the blink of an eye, Ibaka has blossomed into one of the best power forwards in the league. He has become more consistent with his offensive game and even has expanded it. And he has become a better all-around defender and not just a menacing shot blocker who led the league in that category last season.
“Yeah, he's been great,” said Nick Collison. “Obviously his offensive game has expanded, and he's still blocking shots and rebounding. But I think his focus is a lot better. Defensively, he's where he should be. He's not getting lost and he's been great for us.”
In his fourth season, Ibaka is averaging 14.3 points and 8.5 rebounds. Both are career bests. He's also upped his shooting percentages to 56.2 percent from the field and 82.1 percent from the free throw line.
More impressively, Ibaka has increased his production in spite of remaining the fourth option offensively. Yet no one seems surprised.
THUNDER'S NEXT FIVE
SUNDAY: at Toronto, Noon (FSOK) — For whatever reason, the Raptors have always given the Thunder fits. OKC is just 4-3 all-time against Toronto.
MONDAY: at Washington, 6 p.m. (FSOK) — Toronto followed by Washington should be a gimme back-to-back, but OKC lost in its last visit to both places.
WEDNESDAY: vs. Minnesota, 7 p.m. (FSOK) — Thunder was 21-4 and on a 12-game winning streak before the Timberwolves derailed OKC on Dec. 20.
FRIDAY: at Los Angeles Lakers, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN, FSOK) — Lakers lost earlier meeting in OKC on Dec. 7, but they didn't have Steve Nash or Pau Gasol.
JAN. 13: at Portland, 8 p.m. (FSOK) — Guard Damian Lillard is the pending rookie of the year, plus Trail Blazers are tough to beat at the Rose Garden.
By JOHN ROHDE