OKLAHOMA CITY — Nick Collison’s No. 4 became the first jersey to hang in the rafters in Oklahoma City on Wednesday as the Thunder retired his number prior to their game against the Toronto Raptors.
With the current Thunder team standing behind him, along with the coaches, owner Clay Bennett and general manager Sam Presti, and his family, Collison addressed the crowd for about five minutes.
“I was here when this thing started a long time ago,” Collison said. “Most of the people know the story. We started 3-29, we practiced in an old skating rink. All those things are true. But we went to work in that old skating rink and worked day after day, and we built something really special here. And I was able to be here for every day of that and I’m really proud of that.”
Thunder/Sonics lifer Nick Collison dishes on post-basketball plans and why Kevin Durant’s No. 35 should join his No. 4 in the rafters someday.
Despite averaging only 5.9 points per game, Collison became a staple of the Thunder franchise, relocating with the team from Seattle and becoming a standard of their culture over his 15 seasons with the organization. According to teammates, Collison represented a class, professionalism and work ethic that impacted the team far beyond the court.
“Russell over there was with me for every one of those days, too,” Collison said, addressing his former teammate Russell Westbrook. “I just want to tell you, Russ, I’ve always admired you. I wish I had your courage. I appreciate the fight. Just thanks for coming out every night ready to rock with us. I appreciate that. Thank you.”
Westbrook, who scored 42 points on 16-of-29 shooting and forced overtime with a layup with 4.8 seconds left in the Thunder’s 123-114 overtime loss to the Raptors, said he would need a lot more time to put into words what Collison meant to him than his postgame media sessions afforded.
“I love Nick like a brother,” Westbrook said. “Just appreciative to be able to play with him his whole time here.”
Some of Collison’s former teammates were in attendance but did not take part in the on-court ceremony, instead watching from a suite. Kevin Durant, Steve Novak, Cole Aldrich, Anthony Morrow and Brent Barry were among some of the teammates at the game.
“I got to play on a lot of great teams here,” Collison said. “We had great teams because we had great players. I played with a lot of guys that made me look a lot better than I was. It was just all the Hall of Famers I played with, it was all the role players, the mentors, some of these guys are here tonight. Here and in college, everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always loved my teammates. For me I just always wanted my teammates to know that all I wanted to do is help them win. I never had another agenda and I think I stayed true to that and I hope they feel that way.”
Nicknamed “Mr. Thunder” by Durant, Collison spent his entire career with the franchise, an extremely rare accomplishment for a role player. Collison was part of the famed 2003 draft class that included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He appeared in 910 regular-season games, and 91 playoff games, third-most in franchise history behind Gary Payton and Fred Brown.
“The nickname ‘Mr. Thunder’ is like spot on for what he’s meant to this organization,” Paul George said. “He was a guy that was always ready, always prepared. Never took a day off, he was always ready to practice, always ready to be the voice and it was inspiring watching that.”
Collison grew emotional only when he addressed his 13-year-old daughter, Emma, who was standing on the court.
“It was beautiful,” former teammate Steven Adams said of the ceremony. “It was really good from the organization too, to retire his jersey says a lot about them. It was really wonderful. I miss the old bastard. I miss him, but it was a beautiful moment.”