I am Boomer Sooner to the core. Like literally, to the core of my being. I had the same procedure as Wolverine and instead of adamantium, I had crimson and cream melted to my skeletal frame. True story.
I love the University of Oklahoma about as much as anything. I graduated from there. Every family member I have is a Sooner fan. Heck, my wife was a four-year member of the OU cheer squad and the captain for the last two (yes, I’m bragging). I don’t like orange and it doesn’t matter what shade it comes in. OU is just a part of me. I can’t help it.
But I absolutely love Desmond Mason. Seriously, he’s one of my all-time favorite basketball players. Forget that he went to that school up north. Honestly, it just made me like him more. How backwards is that? Desmond going to OSU made me like him more. Next I’ll tell you that I have Colt McCoy bedsheets and didn’t think there was a clip on Johnny Rodgers’ punt return in The Game of the Century.
Why do I like him so much you ask? The truthful answer is… I have no idea. He was just kind of our guy around here. Most of the time, those type of guys are the ones that hit the big shots, make game-changing plays or are just all-around studly. But in Dez’s case, while a fine basketball player, it was more just about a connection.
When we were embarking on our first NBA journey back in 2005 with the Hornets, we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. We were pretending to be fans of this team and trying to give them a place that felt like home. But having Dez around actually made it feel kind of right. It made this new game and new group of guys we’d never really heard of feel familiar. We’d seen this show before. It wasn’t all that new and shocking to have this team here, because hey, that’s Desmond Mason throwing down hellacious dunks and catching alley oops. I have seen this before. He was the de facto face of the franchise from the start because his face was really the only one we recognized. To be honest, I think Desmond Mason is largely responsible (along with Chris Paul) for the NBA explosion in OKC and the love affair for the game that quickly formed. I really do.
And bringing him to Oklahoma City a second time, but on this occasion for a realteam that wasn’t going anywhere, just locked him in our hearts. He wasn’t extremely productive during his two stints in OKC – 10.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 1.2 apg – but nevermind stats and “greatness.” He’s banging on the door of the Pantheon of Oklahoma Sports regardless. Why? I really don’t know. I guess it was just for what he represented – the transformation of a college sports town into a Big League City.
We had Chris Paul, we had David West, we have Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. We loved and still love those players. They were all Our Guys. But Desmond was the ultimate Our Guy because he carried the title three different times with three different teams, but all in the same state. He’s forever connected to sports in this state, and in just about every way possible.
It’s really a little spooky how he wound up here both times. He was traded from Milwaukee to New Orleans right before the 2005 season when the transplanted Hornets wound up in OKC. Then he was traded again from Milwaukee to OKC in 2008 right after the move from Seattle. I’m not really a believer in destiny and fate, but that’s kind of hard to argue with.
Maybe it’s a little hokey to assume it, but I sort of think Dez was meant to be here both times for the state and city. He was the liaison that ushered in this game and made it feel like our own and helped make connections to the roster, which is one of the most important things for a franchise to succeed somewhere. I mean, the last time we had a team here he was on it. Now we have a completely new franchise and he’s on it again. It was kind of like the NBA never left. He was the link between the raw excitement and passion for the Hornets and this new team that we could actually call our own.
When news broke late Wednesday that Mason wouldn’t be returning next year to the Thunder, a part of my heart sank. I knew it was coming and when free agency started, everybody pretty much knew Dez wouldn’t be back next year. He’s an aging, 31-year-old role player that really doesn’t fit in with the youth movement of this team. While he can be a valuable piece to a team with his strong defensive skills, leadership and bulldog mentality, the trade for Thabo Sefolosha and the drafting of James Harden all but punched Mason’s ticket out of the Sooner State.
And even though I knew he wasn’t coming back, having it confirmed yesterday made me a little sad. It’s not like I thought Mason would make this team dramatically better. It’s not like he was a missing piece that could put OKC over the top. It’s not like I thought losing him was a giant missed opportunity. All he was, was a guy that played hard and that we all loved. Every team has those guys. Malik Rose was a fan favorite in San Antonio and he was absolutely devastated to have to leave, as were the fans. Players grow connected to the community and the community grows connected to them, and a lot of times it has nothing to do with what happened on the hardwood the night before. And the fact that OKC tried hard to make room for Dez even though it didn’t need him in the slightest says something about the connection he had to the city and the connection the fans had to him.
Mason is the most successful Oklahoman in the NBA probably since Wayman (not counting Blake Griffin of course), and Wayman was a guy cherished and loved by both crimson and orange. And Dez has somehow broken the same barrier and has some similar qualities. A guy that loves this state and will likely make his home here once he finishes his career. A guy that has done a TON for the community and is just an all around swell human being. A guy that everybody can get behind, regardless of school colors. And hey, he’s also an artist just like Wayman was, though he prefers the brush rather than the bass.
So anyway, thank you for your time here Dez. I truly can’t say enough for how much we appreciated you around here. I saw you at Penn Square Mall last year around Christmas time and you were signing every autograph, posing for every picture and shaking every hand. All with a smile and a look of true humility on your face. Sure, maybe you’re not going to be remembered for the same reason we think of Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson or Sam Bradford. But I know I’ll never forget the impact you made here.
You’re a true Oklahoma great. Here’s to you, the rest of your career and to hoping we cross paths again. I’m sure it’ll happen. That destiny thing has a way of bringing you home.