Oklahoma City Thunder go with unexpected choice for team's first ever retired number

Jack BaerYahoo Sports Contributor
Nick Collison’s number is headed for the rafters in Oklahoma City. (Getty Images)
Nick Collison’s number is headed for the rafters in Oklahoma City. (Getty Images)

Now a full decade into their tenure in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma City Thunder are now getting old enough to have players spend enough time on the team to have their numbers hung up in the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder announced the first such player on Saturday, and the choice might have raised a few eyebrows.

That player is longtime Thunder/SuperSonics power forward Nick Collison, who spent his entire 14-season career with the franchise until his retirement in 2018.

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The Thunder announced the news in comical fashion on Twitter with a video featuring “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Update anchor Colin Jost:

The retirement ceremony for Collison’s No. 4 will take place prior to the Thunder’s game against the Raptors on March 20.

Why the Thunder are retiring Nick Collison’s number

As far as retired numbers go, this decision seems like a pretty weird one. No one is going to elect Collison to the Hall of Fame, and probably not the Hall of Very Good either. The big man out of Kansas averaged only 5.9 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game for his entire career, and never broke double digits in either stat for a single season.

Of course, Collison’s value never really came from taking over games or filling the stat sheet.

Collison ranks only 20th in franchise history in career points, but he does come in at third in games played and fourth in career rebounds. He also contributed plenty behind the scenes as one of the team’s veteran leaders down the road, as alluded to in the Thunder’s press release:

“Nick Collison’s career in Oklahoma City was unique. Unique in that he helped create the internal standards for work ethic, selflessness, citizenship and ‎professionalism for an organization that was starting from scratch. Unique in that as a role player, he embedded himself as a legacy player for the Thunder because of his consistency both in times of success and adversity and respect for his teammates and the organization,” said Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti. “It is fitting that Nick will continue his unique and singular relationship with the organization by being our first retired number.”

While Collison was never the type to regularly throw down double-doubles, he made plenty of contributions in hustle stats not seen on the typical box score, like charges drawn, deflections and screen assists. The Thunder have decided such a player deserves the team’s highest honor.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s retired numbers

While Collison is the first player to ever have his number retired in Oklahoma City, he joins a group of six players in the franchises annals that were retired in Seattle.

Those players are:

  • Gus Williams – 1

  • Nate McMillan – 10

  • Lenny Wilkens – 19

  • Spencer Haywood – 24

  • Fred Brown – 32

  • Jack Sikma – 43

Curiously, that group doesn’t include Gary Payton, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, or Shawn Kemp, who was named to five All-Star teams in Seattle, more than Williams, McMilan Brown and, yes, Collison, combined.

The exclusion of those two players might have something to do with the pair retiring shortly before the franchise’s move to Oklahoma. If Seattle ever gets an expansion team, that will likely be remedied, as well as the new team taking over the Sonics history and retired numbers from the Thunder. Except for Collison.

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