You’re going to need to channel your inner Kendrick Perkins, Thunder fans. The target: Nene. On a team that has its share of colorful characters to play the bad-guy role, the Nuggets center has become Public Enemy No. 1 in the Thunder Nation. First, he went toe-to-toe and forehead-to-forehead with Perkins, then he tussled with the Thunder big man again a few days later. Now, he’s coming to town for a wild, wild Western Conference showdown. Sure hope he’s not expecting the Welcome Wagon. In Oklahoma City, this guy is the face of the franchise that stands between the Thunder and an extended stay in the playoffs. So, Thunder fans, why not direct some vitriol toward the one-name wonder when the series starts Sunday? Why not bring a little hate? That’s what Perkins does. He picks something that he doesn’t like about a guy, then stews about it. The more he thinks about it, the more miffed he becomes. It seems to work pretty well considering Perkins walks into the arena looking like he wants to break someone in half. Now, the question is, what’s it going to be about Nene that gets the bad blood brewing? I mean, this guy isn’t exactly Attila the Hun. He’s actually been called a gentle giant. (Can’t you just hear Perk retching right now?) Truth be told, Nene has a pretty hard-luck story. He grew up in Sao Carlos, Brazil, in a tiny, cinder-block, tin-roof house. Six people shared the two-bedroom house. After he was drafted, the rest of the family moved to an upscale apartment in downtown Sao Carlos. The reason: they worried about someone being kidnapped and held for ransom. Basketball courts were few and far between in Sao Carlos. Soccer was the sport of choice, but local basketball enthusiasts made do. They attached basketball goals to the backs of two Jeeps, then drove them to empty parking lots and parked them 95 feet apart. Instant basketball court. The rims were made with wires, the nets with shoelaces and fishing net. Somehow, Nene made his way to the NBA as the seventh overall pick in the 2002 draft. Three years later, he blew out his knee. Three years after that, he discovered that he had testicular cancer. He took a leave of absence to undergo treatment. He had surgery on Jan. 14, 2008. All the while, his then fiancée, now wife Lauren Prothe was having blurred vision and migraines. Doctors determined she had a small benign tumor on her pituitary gland. She had surgery on April 2, 2008. But he kept the faith. Check out what he had to say about a year after his cancer diagnosis when he had a perfect 12-for-12, 28-point performance against Utah. “It’s a blessing, you know?” he said. “It’s a blessing of God in my life because of all the things that I’ve been through. His promise has come through right now.” With all the trials and tribulations that Nene has overcome, it’s almost as if he’s the South American version of Perkins. Big Tex is probably scowling at the comparison right now. Which brings us back to the mission at hand — coming up with something Thunder fans can dislike about Nene. There’s the hair, sometimes in cornrows, sometimes poofy, always a little bit wacky. There’s the way he always seems to dunk with just one hand. What’s up with that? And then, there’s the name. Nene. Hey, this is the NBA, not the Premier League. Having just one name might be cool if you play soccer or made massively popular pop albums in the ’80s, but since when did basketball players start going around deciding that they wanted to go by only one name? At least he could’ve gone with one that’s easy to pronounce. For the record, Nene is pronounced Nuh-NAY, but if you ask me to pronounce it five minutes from now, I’d have to look it up again. Heck, Nene is not even his given name. It was a nickname given to him because he was the youngest in the family. It means baby in Portuguese. He was born Maybyner Rodney Hilario. Hmm, maybe that’s why he changed his name. See, Thunder fans, channeling Perkins and making someone the bad guy isn’t so difficult. Maybe you’re already working up a good loathing for Nene. Perhaps you’re even trying to figure out how you can get under his skin. Just remember, he changed his name to Nene, the word for baby. That means his name is Baby. That’s right, Baby. And if that doesn’t get him, you could really go for the knock-out punch. Call him Hilario.Comments
The Nene file• Position: Center/Forward • Height: 6-foot-11 • Weight: 250 pounds • Born: Sept. 13, 1982, in Sao Carlos, Brazil • Years pro: 8 • 2010-11 averages: 14.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.0 blocks • Career averages: 12.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.9 blocks • Nene was a nickname given to Maybyner Rodney Hilario, who was the youngest in his family and always hung out with a group of older kids. “Nene” means “baby” in Portuguese. He legally changed his name to it in 2003. • Plays bass guitar. • Diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2008. He missed more than two months of the 2007-08 season, but the following season, he had a career year with career-high averages in points and rebounds. • Favorite teams are soccer squads — Sao Paulo in the Brazilian league and FC Barcelona. • Does extensive charity work in his homeland of Brazil, including hosting a gospel event there for the past three summers and sponsoring more than 50 athletes in his hometown.