The members of the Oklahoma City Thunder team are a bunch of young, quiet, unassuming and extremely confident young guns. That is when they step off the basketball court. When they are on the court the Thunder go through a massive transformation into a group of young men that defy gravity and conventional wisdom with their mercurial basketball skills.
Off the court, as I discovered last year as my family and I sat waiting to be seated at a famous Los Angeles eatery, Thunder players don’t walk around with their chests puffed out asking for preferential treatment. They’re quite the opposite.
Center Kendrick Perkins, NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and about as many as four other Thunder players walked into Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles restaurant in Los Angeles with as much fanfare as an ant going into a mole hill. There was no drama.
There were no groupies hanging out waiting for them to get out of their vehicles. Autograph seekers weren’t madly rushing up to them in droves. There they were, the potential future of the NBA, walking into one of the hottest eatery spots in the city, sitting down eating their food as if they are just regular folks.
There was no pretense about this group. There was no celebrity aura encompassing them. When people talk about folks being real, what I saw that day was a group of young men not caught up in the hype of their own press clippings.
Heck, they just wanted to get their eat on like everybody else. Why is this big deal? It really isn’t, except for the fact that provides a backdrop of what type of cats the Thunder players are. These guys are cool, collected and confident. When they’re away from the arena where they make their money, Thunder players can be fun and engaging.
It’s a different ballgame when they’re on the court. The Thunder team is a brash and bold bunch. They don’t back down. The Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs can attest to this. All three teams have a degree of championship pedigree in them. The Thunder knocked off Dirk Nowitzki and the defending NBA champions Mavericks in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, and all of their 16 titles, were pushed aside by OKC in six hard-fought games of the second round. After making it to the Western Conference Finals last year in which they fell in five games to the Mavericks, OKC showed their growth and grit in ousting Tim Duncan and the highly-favored San Antonio Spurs to make it to the NBA Finals this time around.
Instead of showboating, the Thunder let their play do all the talking. And it all begins and ends with the NBA’s three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant. Durant is the clear-cut leader of this squad. Each team usually takes on the makeup of their leader. In the case of OKC, Thunder players basically emulate Durant, who is about as low-key as a superstar as one can get.
While Durant is the defacto leader of Thunder with his effortlessly artful of putting the ball in the hoop and quiet intensity, Los Angeles native Russell Westbrook brings the noise and hammed with youthful exuberance and high-flying act.
Westbrook is both boisterous and demonstrative, serving as an effective counter balance to Durant’s even-keel demeanor. Then there is the X-factor force that is known as Harden.
If you need a three-point bucket in crunch time, Harden can be you man. If the team needs an on-court facilitator, Harden can do that with the best. The beautiful thing is that Durant, Westbrook and Harden, are all under 24. With the exception of former Lakers great Derek Fisher, who hooked up with the team near the end of the regular season, the Thunder are essentially a bunch of baby-faced basketball take-out artists.
Right now, OKC is the best team in the Western Conference. And from the way it looks, that fact will probably hold true for a very long time to come.