Chemistry is a buzz word that gets tossed around a lot in sports, but is particularly involved with any conversation involving Thunder General Manager Sam Presti’s plans for his team. The thing is, in those occasions, it might not be a cliche.
Not too long ago, I read two books that helped me to understand the inner workings of a modern professional basketball team. Both, :07 Seconds or Less by Jack McCallum and Can I Keep My Jersey by Paul Shirley, happened to be at least significantly involving the mid-aughts Phoenix Suns.
I would imagine most people who visit this site are at least familiar with the tale of that team. They were easily the most entertaining team to watch since Michael Jordan hung up his sneakers for the second time and behind Steve Nash, their brand of basketball exuded energy and excitement. They won a lot of games and appeared to be having a crap-ton of fun.
The books painted an entirely different picture off the floor. Some of the higher paid players walked around with a chip on their shoulder, and after the press left, the players generally went their seperate ways. Their job was very similar to everyone else’s in that there was a hierarchy, politics, and the paycheck was the primary thing keeping them interacting with each other.
Thanks to the invention of Twitter, today you don’t have to be a league minimum earning bench warmer or embeded journalist to get a feel for how this Thunder team interacts with one another. And what I have observed is good. There is a true fraternal bond among these players.
And I really like the use of the word fraternal for these guys. Aside from the fact that only a couple of the guys are old enough to where they would be called “non-traditional students” if they were still on college campuses, everything they seem to do reminds me of my days as a fraternity guy.
They live in big houses that a typical college kid couldn’t afford. Most of their free time is spent playing video games. Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and James Harden kill time trying to become YouTube stars. Some of them participate in stupid games like slap fights. And if you listen to them complain about women in their tweets, you’d think they were struggling students rather than wealthy, handsome, and famous athletes trying to chase down starlets. Sometimes, I have trouble remembering that I am following the word vomit of professional basketball players rather than CollegeHumor.com writers.
The parallels to an NBA Animal House don’t end there, though. After the jump, I look at which role these players would play if they actually were living on fraternity row.
House Manager – Jeff Green
When I was at OSU, we had a guy in my fraternity who you could always count on. Any project the house took on, he was going to take a leadership role, and usually put in more time while doing the bulk of the grunt work. He was by no means the most popular guy inside or outside of the building, but his presence made the house what it was.
Jeff Green definitely plays that part for the Thunder. He isn’t the most glamorous player, and fans tend to choose KD or Russell Westbrook over him as their favorite. The thing is, he does all the little things that have transformed this team from a cellar dwellar to a potential playoff contender.
Big Man on Campus – Kevin Durant
He’s the guy who everyone on campus knows and respects. They’re all, like, “that guy’s a Phi Tau, I guess they must be cooler than we thought.”
Party Animal – Russell Westbrook
Every fraternity has a guy who is the life of the party. When this guy is on his game, people tell stories of the epic event they attended and most of those stories revolve around the escapades of this guy. Of course, if he shows up hung over or brings a date, the party bombs.
Apply that analogy as you will.
The Pledge Trainer – Kevin Ollie
One officer in every fraternity is typically a guy who is a little more mature than everyone else and has a nurturing quality that makes him a fit for taking the younger guys under his wing.
Hot Head – Thabo Sefolosha
I’m not saying Thabo is actually the guy who walks into fraternity functions and causes fights. He is, however, the guy who gives this Thunder team an edge. Not only is he the one guy with visible tattoos, he is the scrappy guy who gets Kobe Bryant fuming or comes close to a taunting technical when he forces Richard Jefferson to turn the ball over in the games’ most critical possession.
Mellowed Out Dude – Nick Collison
Most, if not all, fraternities have a guy who is ultra laid back. He is generally the funniest guy in the house and while he isn’t the lynch pin of anything, everyone usually enjoys having him around.
Collison is the consumate role player in the NBA. No one ever counts on him dropping thirty, but everyone likes to see him fighting on defense, grabbing key rebounds, and occasionally putting in an open dunk. Plus, as anyone who follows his Twitter account knows, he is hilarious. Once he finally grows the “Absolute Value Mustache,” he will fit this stereotype to a T.
The Academic – Etan Thomas
This is the guy who hangs out at house parties, not drinking, and pontificates with women attendees over deep worldy issues while everyone else gets upset that he is keeping those ladies away from the keg. I can neither confirm nor deny if this was what my role was in college. But I do know the answer.
Dead Weight – Byron Mullens
There’s always that one dude who never pulls his weight. He’s a grade risk, he never shows up for philanthropy projects, and he basically sits around in his room smoking cigarettes while watching Jerry Springer. The rest of the guys in the house wonder how he ever got initiated, but he doesn’t really do anything to get his pin pulled either.
The Foreign Guy – Serge Ibaka
In my fraternity, we had a bunch of Australian guys who were in school on tennis scholarships. There affiliation with the house basically involved showing up to parties and picking up whatever woman they wanted just by speaking with their accent.
Ibaka reminds me of them, because A) he’s a heart throb to the lady fans, and B) he’s uber-popular less for what he has actually accomplished (he is out of position defensively on a regular basis) but more for the aire of mystery surrounding him. Plus the blocks help.
The Pledge – James Harden
Rookies and pledges are the same thing. They make mistakes, but still show you that glimmer of hope that the house will continue to thrive once you have graduated.