The big guy who the Oklahoma City Thunder expects to patrol the paint with a scowl and guard the goal with a forearm if necessary hasn't always had such a hard edge.
Meet Kendrick Perkins, altar boy.
From the time he was a seventh grader in Beaumont, Texas, until he graduated high school, he was the head altar boy at Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church. Even as he was becoming a sought-after recruit who would jump right from the preps to the pro, Perkins was helping with services every week.
“I happened to be the world's tallest altar boy at the time,” he deadpanned, playfully raising an eyebrow.
But, seriously ...
“I couldn't fit the robes that they had ... so I had to get one custom made.”
Perkins is a gritty player, a rugged defender and a fierce rebounder. That much you already know, Thunder fans.
What you may not realize about the recently acquired center is that he's more than a furrowed brow and a steely glare. After a week during which the Thunder made Perkins its center of the foreseeable future with a four-year contract extension, it's time to get to know the man behind the scowl.
To understand who Perkins is, you have to know how he became the world's tallest altar boy.
And to know that, you have to go back to the beginning.
* * *
Kendrick Perkins was born Nov. 10, 1984, in Nederland, Texas, a small town just outside Beaumont. His father was a recently graduated basketball star at nearby Lamar University, his mother a local girl who had been a rhythm stepper in high school and had always made friends quickly.
He never really got to know either of them.
Perkins' dad was gone first.
Kenneth Perkins had a college basketball career that would eventually earn him a spot in Lamar's athletic hall of honor, but he discovered his best pro opportunities were overseas. He had an infant son. He had a reason to stay.
He left anyway.
Then a few years later, Perkins' mom was gone, too.
Ercell Minix was working at a local beauty salon when she was shot in the neck by Sylvilla Humphrey. The women were neighbors and had been close friends, but they had argued off and on for a couple weeks before the shooting.
Minix was kept on life support for six days before she died.
Humphrey was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder.
Perkins was 5 years old and parentless.
His grandparents became his guardians, moving him into their house, raising him in their neighborhood and changing his life forever.
* * *
Raymond and Mary Lewis raised their children, then their grandson in the historically black neighborhood of Pear Orchard on Beaumont's south side. He worked for Gulf States Asphalt Co. making $400 a month. She cleaned houses making about $60 a week.
“Grew up in a very poor household,” Perkins said. “We ended up making it work.”
Eggs came from the chickens that they kept in the backyard, and then sometimes, the chickens became dinner.
There were sacrifices, though.
“It's 105 degrees outside,” Perkins said. “You've got an air conditioning unit that's in the window, but you can't turn it on because the electricity bill at the end of the month is going to be expensive.”
His grandpa used to give him money for lunch — one or two rolls of pennies.
“To another child, that's embarrassing,” Perkins said, “but that's what you had so you had to make it work.”
That became Perkins' philosophy. There was a dirt court with a goal on the side of his grandparents' house. It was spartan. It had a rim that would get sideways and a backboard that would go down. He made it work.
He fashioned a homemade bench press out of two chairs, a bar and a couple beat-up weights. He made it work.
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THUNDER VS. SUNS
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Oklahoma Arena
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722)
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
* Former Houston point guard Aaron Brooks is now a member of the Suns after a trade deadline deal that sent him to Phoenix in exchange for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick.
* The Thunder split the first two meetings with the Suns this season, with each team winning on the other's court.
* Tonight's game is the final game of a six-game road trip for Phoenix. The Suns are 4-1 in their previous five games.