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God of Thunder: A Tribute to Nick Collison

An ode to the screen setting, hair styles, and attitude of the retiring OKC legend

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Nick Collison changed his hair at some point. It had been short for years, mainly buzzed, or something close to it, the cut of a man who does not want to take the time to deal with it. Then, in 2013, he showed up for media day looking different. Let me say that I think it was 2013, though I am not entirely certain. The internet, because it is stupid, never put together a Through the Years slideshow of Collison’s hairstyles. It is good for very little. It will end us all.

The man appeared as if floating, with a coifed sort-of-pompadour shining oil black on his head, hair that Justin Bobby himself would’ve been like, “Hey, man, you know, that’s dope. That’s a dope cut. I never got enough credit for how good I looked in a cardigan. Truth and time tells all.” It’s my personal belief that Collison’s hair is a symbol for all that is good and true in this world, the flowing locks rendering hate in its many forms obsolete, uninteresting, pointless. It’s not a do that sits firmly on his head in a gelled statue. This is no shell. There’s movement to it, strands loosening themselves, shimmying, Clark Kent–ing on his forehead. Hair Jordan’s been with the Thunder since they got to Oklahoma City and His Hairness has ruled with love in his heart and skins on his knees. No player was more beloved by his fan base. He announced his retirement on Thursday. He played 14 seasons, all for the same organization. He’ll go down as the godfather of Thunder basketball.

On the face of it, Collison had a mediocre professional career, averages of 5.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.0 assists. He shot 53.4 percent from the field and 72.3 percent from the line. A YouTube video exists that’s titled “Dirk Nowitzki abuses Nick Collison.”

There were other things, though. I’m a proud member of Team Ban Charges, but Nicholas John Collison turned that whole process into high art. My guy took a charge like it was part of some larger dance number. He took them in the way that people who take them all the time know how to take them. It’s not a trust fall. This is not a youth camp. Don’t hurl yourself backward. Glide on the seat of your shorts. Let the sweat work for you. Slide a little. Collison and James Harden ran OKC’s bench unit during the latter part of Harden’s time in Oklahoma. They made music with the side pick-and-roll and taught Oklahoma children the beauty of the bounce pass. It is weird (and depressing) to think about now. Collison posted a picture of them on Instagram in 2012. He’s screening Brandon Rush for Harden. David Lee’s there, failing. The caption underneath the photo is simple and plain. It reads: “Jim and I.”

Collison’s been with the Thunder through it all. He was there when Earl Watson was the team’s starting point guard, when they took the Lakers to six games as an 8-seed, when they went to the Finals. He was there when injuries derailed a few different title shots, when Durant left, when Westbrook stayed. Here is a short list of some of his teammates.

  • Robert Swift
  • Shaun Livingston
  • Kevin Ollie
  • Morris Peterson
  • Leader of the plaid suit brigade and Dozo’s own Royal Ivey
  • Nate Robinson
  • The Good Jeff Green, before the aliens took him

There was a Kansas-Texas Big Monday game when Collison was a college senior that I still think about from time to time. He went for 24 and 23. Dick Vitale gave him a standing ovation. Dick’s prone to excess, but this was not that. Collison controlled everything.

Rick Barnes started involuntarily weeping partway through the second half. T.J. Ford had not yet entered his headband phase. Jason Klotz’s actual name is Jason Klotz.

Collison appeared in only 15 games this past season, typically at the end of blowouts, when he could get several unbroken minutes in, but a few times foul trouble or injury forced Billy Donovan’s hand and he had to pull the cover off in moments when the game had not yet been decided. The last of these happened on March 10, 2018, in a home game against the Spurs. Collison played six minutes and 25 seconds. He grabbed two rebounds and scored seven points, and after each bucket the whole of Chesapeake Energy Arena unleashed unbridled screams of love on his head. Before the last game of the season, Westbrook took the mic and the middle of the floor and, after thanking the fans for their support throughout the year, brought Collison out to stand with him. He called him a friend, a mentor, and a brother. No one knew whether this was his final season. The crowd gave him a standing ovation just in case.

During the 2012 season, he wrote a guest blog for GQ. The fourth volume was titled “How to Survive in the NBA When You’re Not a Superstar.” A sampling:

The hard part is being able to have the focus to do it over and over again, knowing you aren’t going to get a lot of credit. Doing a great job of talking on defense won’t get you any high-paying endorsement deals. Nobody is making a YouTube mix of all your badass screens with a Rick Ross track playing over it. (I’m not saying I would complain if someone did this for me.)

Someone did.

I overreacted before. The internet is fine.

Collison was always the sage of the Thunder. He played in such a way that when he inevitably started bleeding, either from court burn or an errant elbow, it seemed somehow like the blood belonged on him, like that was his base state, how he was always meant to be.

Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.