Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 1

Kevin Durant

NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 1

Kevin Durant

NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 1

Kevin Durant

NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 1

Kevin Durant says Giannis Antetokounmpo could become GOAT

It's not shocking Durant that likes long, athletic players. 

Kevin Durant says Giannis Antetokounmpo could become GOAT

It's not shocking Durant that likes long, athletic players. 

Kevin Durant says Giannis Antetokounmpo could become GOAT

It's not shocking Durant that likes long, athletic players. 

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook 'broke the ice' after Thunder star won MVP, Kendrick Perkins says

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook 'broke the ice' after Thunder star won MVP, Kendrick Perkins says

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook 'broke the ice' after Thunder star won MVP, Kendrick Perkins says

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook 'broke the ice' after Thunder star won MVP, Kendrick Perkins says

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook 'broke the ice' after Thunder star won MVP, Kendrick Perkins says

There's a chance all of the drama between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could be coming to an end.

Kevin Durant Texted Russell Westbrook After He Won MVP

The drama between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook might be inching closer to its end.

The feud between the two superstars was a recurring theme all last season. Whether it was Westbrook wearing an "Official Photographer" vest before their first game against each other or Durant embracing the cupcake moniker that was placed on him through t-shirts, a hat and a design for his new sneakers, there was plenty of fuel added to the fire.

In a new story by Sports Illustrated's Jake Fischer, Kendrick Perkins talked about how the former teammates could be on the road toward getting back on speaking terms.

Fischer writes:

Farewell to the NBA's Summer of Subtweeting

The two will face each other four times this season with the first meeting coming Nov. 22 in Oklahoma City. Maybe we'll see signs of a rekindled friendship prior to that matchup.

The Biggest Sneaker Storylines Heading Into the NBA Season

The NBA landscape has changed quite a bit since the Warriors defeated LeBron James and the Cavaliers back in June. This upcoming season is already full of intrigue and the sneaker storylines might be just as good. With opening night just a few days, we will dig into the biggest sneaker-related questions for this upcoming season, such as the status of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s shoe deal, Kevin Durant vs. Stephen Curry and the impact of Kyrie Irving’s move to Boston.

Will LeBron regain sneaker supremacy?

The sneaker world has evolved and reached a place where lifestyle models have taken over the game and the feet of consumers. Gone are the days where performance sneakers can bring in a ton amount of money in sales off performance aspects alone. Even someone like LeBron James, who may arguably have the second-greatest signature line in history, has suffered from the transition. Last season, LeBron placed second in sneaker sales to none other than Kyrie Irving, thanks to the Kyrie 3.

It is worth noting that Irving’s sneakers have always had a more affordable price point, marketed at $120 compared to LeBron sneakers that have topped $200 several times. As a true business man, LeBron understands that losing the sales battle is not a good look as one of the game's biggest names and brands (Imagine Jordan losing in sneaker sales to Pippen).

The LeBron 15 is one of LeBron’s boldest sneakers yet. It features the same bulk and innovative performance elements that we have come to know with his sneakers but offers an attempt to compete within the flyknit revolution with what Nike calls flyknit battle construction. The sneaker will be a beast on the court as expected?, but has already made its rounds on the scene of fashion shows such the KITH Sport Fashion show. Will this be enough to give James’ groove back? The sneaker will release October 28th for $185. Check back in a few months to see how this sales.

Where will the Greek Freak land?

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best sneaker free agent on the market, and as expected he has numerous suitors vying for his attention. Antetokounmpo’s Nike contract recently expired, and with his potential untapped, brands are trying to do anything to land him. Not only has Antetokounmpo showed his talent on the court, but he has become a fan favorite off it for his jubilant personality. The Greek import comes from humble beginnings and has morphed into a serious MVP candidate in just a short span of time. Antetokounmpo was a huge fan of Kobe’s signature line, often wearing the Kobe X and Kobe A.D. models.

Adidas was the first brand to publicly make their pitch, sending over a van full of products to Antetokounmpo outside the Bucks training facility.

Despite the gray news surrounding the brand over the NCAA controversy, Adidas has been on a streak as of late within the sneaker industry after news broke out that the brand surpassed Jordan Brand for second place in terms of sales in the U.S. basketball market. The three-stripes roster also includes a young crop of guys like Kristaps Porzingis and Andrew Wiggins, bringing in Antetokounmpo? would create an ultimate and fun trio.

According to Nick DePaula of ESPN, Li-Ning will also make a huge push to get their hands on the Greek Freak. Li-Ning has shown itself to be a true player in the sneaker war business as more and more NBA players are opting out traditional deals with historic brands in hopes of landing more money and possibly a signature shoe. The brand recently signed Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum to a deal. Dwyane Wade is currently on his sixth model with the brand and is still one of the most marketable NBA players in the league. The Greek Freak has the talent and the personality to take a brand to new heights. I wouldn't be surprised if he took this route, but it's worth noting that Nike has the right to match any deal with Antetokounmpo.

What is this season's most anticipated sneaker?

As we get closer and closer to the start of the NBA season, more and more players will be unveiling their signature sneakers. Stephen Curry and Under Armour strategically unveiled the Curry 4 during the NBA Finals when the world was watching. Kevin Durant is usually the first superstar to release his sneakers as his target dates always land during the summer time. We have already discussed the LeBron 15. But what is next to drop? Here are three sneakers I can’t wait to see.

Nike PG2

You have to give it to Nike and Paul George for doing everything right for the release of a first signature sneaker. The $110 price point was a great test for consumers to see if they would bite on a PG-13 silhouette, and it turns out they did. Not only did the PG1 have an excellent price, the sneaker is dope. I have not seen a wack colorway for the PG1 yet, and the sneaker released back in March. The PG1 is going to be one tough act to follow.

Nike Kyrie 4

It is going to be interesting to see how Kyrie Irving elevates his brand in Boston. Irving has had one of the most successful starts for a signature sneaker line and still remains a favorite within the young demographic of hoop fans. The thing is, it is not hard to market Kyrie because he does an exceptional job of building hype off his play alone. The Kyrie 3 was a solid performance model and came out a great price. Photos of his fourth model has leaked on the Internet, but it’s hard to judge a shoe off sample images. There is an image of him on set of his Uncle Drew movie with what seems like his newest model but you never know. With Irving having his own team now, all eyes will be on him this year and his shoes.

Adidas Harden Vol. 2

Adidas jumped over the Jumpman? Kanye’s own prophecy didn’t exactly come true but he did create a brand new hype machine surrounding the three-striped brand. One name that had a lot to do with Adidas’s new found life in the basketball sneaker market in the U.S. is James Harden. The brand transitioned into their lifestyle mantra just in time and found a great endorser in the Beard who shelled out a pretty great first signature model, the Harden Vol. 1. It is going to be interesting to see how Adidas prepares this upcoming season with the Nike officially taking over the NBA. They have invested a lot in Harden, and it is only right that Vol. 2 keeps the momentum building.

Did the state of Jordan Brand change this summer?

WELL... the news break of Jordan Brand ending Carmelo Anthony’s signature line came as a surprise. Anthony quickly downplayed the news insisting that he just signed an extension with the brand.

Jordan Brand officially released this statement regarding the future of Melo's signature line. “Melo is a long-time and respected member of the Jordan family. As is the case with all Jordan family athletes, we work together with Melo on a footwear plan each year, and no decisions have been finalized about future models. Any decision made will be a collaborative one between Melo and Jordan Brand.”

Melo has the fifth-longest running signature line to date and it will be a sad way to go out without proving himself once more in OKC alongside Russell Westbrook, who just inked a long-term contract with the brand.

Jordan Brand loves the idea of CP3 in Houston, and it gives them more room to dominate in another city, especially in an effort to steal Harden’s Adidas shine.

In terms of Jordan products, we will see a mix of old sprinkled in with? the new. The brand will celebrate MJ this holiday season with the Air Jordan XI in two colorways that pay homage to Jordan’s collegiate and professional championships.

In terms of PE’s, they have that covered as well. You should expect Westbrook to wear some crazy colorways of the Air Jordan XXXII this season.

Is there a sneaker war in Golden State?

According to this picture, it doesn’t look like it. Yes, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are two of the biggest names in the NBA, and of course there will be some kind of fun/competitive tension revolving around their sneakers. I don’t believe the two are actually beefing over their shoes, but we should not be blind to the fact that Nike and Under Armour reps are probably watching every single move on the other side. I am all for the conspiracy theory that Nike persuaded Durant to join the Warriors to destroy Curry’s signature line.

Lost in the midst of this “sneaker war” is the third signature player on the Warriors roster, Anta’s Klay Thompson who may have the greatest sneaker commercial since “It’s Gotta be the Shoes”.

Will the Big Baller Brand have any impact?

You have to give it to the Ball family for going all out and believing in their brand. Lonzo even had the guts to remix his own sneaker before it even released.

While it may be fun and games to some who see what the House of LaVar has built, it is going to be intriguing to watch how many young prospects opt to go in a different route with brands or create their own. Whether you like it or not, Big Baller Brand may have started something.

The Biggest Sneaker Storylines Heading Into the NBA Season

The NBA landscape has changed quite a bit since the Warriors defeated LeBron James and the Cavaliers back in June. This upcoming season is already full of intrigue and the sneaker storylines might be just as good. With opening night just a few days, we will dig into the biggest sneaker-related questions for this upcoming season, such as the status of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s shoe deal, Kevin Durant vs. Stephen Curry and the impact of Kyrie Irving’s move to Boston.

Will LeBron regain sneaker supremacy?

The sneaker world has evolved and reached a place where lifestyle models have taken over the game and the feet of consumers. Gone are the days where performance sneakers can bring in a ton amount of money in sales off performance aspects alone. Even someone like LeBron James, who may arguably have the second-greatest signature line in history, has suffered from the transition. Last season, LeBron placed second in sneaker sales to none other than Kyrie Irving, thanks to the Kyrie 3.

It is worth noting that Irving’s sneakers have always had a more affordable price point, marketed at $120 compared to LeBron sneakers that have topped $200 several times. As a true business man, LeBron understands that losing the sales battle is not a good look as one of the game's biggest names and brands (Imagine Jordan losing in sneaker sales to Pippen).

The LeBron 15 is one of LeBron’s boldest sneakers yet. It features the same bulk and innovative performance elements that we have come to know with his sneakers but offers an attempt to compete within the flyknit revolution with what Nike calls flyknit battle construction. The sneaker will be a beast on the court as expected?, but has already made its rounds on the scene of fashion shows such the KITH Sport Fashion show. Will this be enough to give James’ groove back? The sneaker will release October 28th for $185. Check back in a few months to see how this sales.

Where will the Greek Freak land?

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best sneaker free agent on the market, and as expected he has numerous suitors vying for his attention. Antetokounmpo’s Nike contract recently expired, and with his potential untapped, brands are trying to do anything to land him. Not only has Antetokounmpo showed his talent on the court, but he has become a fan favorite off it for his jubilant personality. The Greek import comes from humble beginnings and has morphed into a serious MVP candidate in just a short span of time. Antetokounmpo was a huge fan of Kobe’s signature line, often wearing the Kobe X and Kobe A.D. models.

Adidas was the first brand to publicly make their pitch, sending over a van full of products to Antetokounmpo outside the Bucks training facility.

Despite the gray news surrounding the brand over the NCAA controversy, Adidas has been on a streak as of late within the sneaker industry after news broke out that the brand surpassed Jordan Brand for second place in terms of sales in the U.S. basketball market. The three-stripes roster also includes a young crop of guys like Kristaps Porzingis and Andrew Wiggins, bringing in Antetokounmpo? would create an ultimate and fun trio.

According to Nick DePaula of ESPN, Li-Ning will also make a huge push to get their hands on the Greek Freak. Li-Ning has shown itself to be a true player in the sneaker war business as more and more NBA players are opting out traditional deals with historic brands in hopes of landing more money and possibly a signature shoe. The brand recently signed Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum to a deal. Dwyane Wade is currently on his sixth model with the brand and is still one of the most marketable NBA players in the league. The Greek Freak has the talent and the personality to take a brand to new heights. I wouldn't be surprised if he took this route, but it's worth noting that Nike has the right to match any deal with Antetokounmpo.

What is this season's most anticipated sneaker?

As we get closer and closer to the start of the NBA season, more and more players will be unveiling their signature sneakers. Stephen Curry and Under Armour strategically unveiled the Curry 4 during the NBA Finals when the world was watching. Kevin Durant is usually the first superstar to release his sneakers as his target dates always land during the summer time. We have already discussed the LeBron 15. But what is next to drop? Here are three sneakers I can’t wait to see.

Nike PG2

You have to give it to Nike and Paul George for doing everything right for the release of a first signature sneaker. The $110 price point was a great test for consumers to see if they would bite on a PG-13 silhouette, and it turns out they did. Not only did the PG1 have an excellent price, the sneaker is dope. I have not seen a wack colorway for the PG1 yet, and the sneaker released back in March. The PG1 is going to be one tough act to follow.

Nike Kyrie 4

It is going to be interesting to see how Kyrie Irving elevates his brand in Boston. Irving has had one of the most successful starts for a signature sneaker line and still remains a favorite within the young demographic of hoop fans. The thing is, it is not hard to market Kyrie because he does an exceptional job of building hype off his play alone. The Kyrie 3 was a solid performance model and came out a great price. Photos of his fourth model has leaked on the Internet, but it’s hard to judge a shoe off sample images. There is an image of him on set of his Uncle Drew movie with what seems like his newest model but you never know. With Irving having his own team now, all eyes will be on him this year and his shoes.

Adidas Harden Vol. 2

Adidas jumped over the Jumpman? Kanye’s own prophecy didn’t exactly come true but he did create a brand new hype machine surrounding the three-striped brand. One name that had a lot to do with Adidas’s new found life in the basketball sneaker market in the U.S. is James Harden. The brand transitioned into their lifestyle mantra just in time and found a great endorser in the Beard who shelled out a pretty great first signature model, the Harden Vol. 1. It is going to be interesting to see how Adidas prepares this upcoming season with the Nike officially taking over the NBA. They have invested a lot in Harden, and it is only right that Vol. 2 keeps the momentum building.

Did the state of Jordan Brand change this summer?

WELL... the news break of Jordan Brand ending Carmelo Anthony’s signature line came as a surprise. Anthony quickly downplayed the news insisting that he just signed an extension with the brand.

Jordan Brand officially released this statement regarding the future of Melo's signature line. “Melo is a long-time and respected member of the Jordan family. As is the case with all Jordan family athletes, we work together with Melo on a footwear plan each year, and no decisions have been finalized about future models. Any decision made will be a collaborative one between Melo and Jordan Brand.”

Melo has the fifth-longest running signature line to date and it will be a sad way to go out without proving himself once more in OKC alongside Russell Westbrook, who just inked a long-term contract with the brand.

Jordan Brand loves the idea of CP3 in Houston, and it gives them more room to dominate in another city, especially in an effort to steal Harden’s Adidas shine.

In terms of Jordan products, we will see a mix of old sprinkled in with? the new. The brand will celebrate MJ this holiday season with the Air Jordan XI in two colorways that pay homage to Jordan’s collegiate and professional championships.

In terms of PE’s, they have that covered as well. You should expect Westbrook to wear some crazy colorways of the Air Jordan XXXII this season.

Is there a sneaker war in Golden State?

According to this picture, it doesn’t look like it. Yes, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are two of the biggest names in the NBA, and of course there will be some kind of fun/competitive tension revolving around their sneakers. I don’t believe the two are actually beefing over their shoes, but we should not be blind to the fact that Nike and Under Armour reps are probably watching every single move on the other side. I am all for the conspiracy theory that Nike persuaded Durant to join the Warriors to destroy Curry’s signature line.

Lost in the midst of this “sneaker war” is the third signature player on the Warriors roster, Anta’s Klay Thompson who may have the greatest sneaker commercial since “It’s Gotta be the Shoes”.

Will the Big Baller Brand have any impact?

You have to give it to the Ball family for going all out and believing in their brand. Lonzo even had the guts to remix his own sneaker before it even released.

While it may be fun and games to some who see what the House of LaVar has built, it is going to be intriguing to watch how many young prospects opt to go in a different route with brands or create their own. Whether you like it or not, Big Baller Brand may have started something.

The Biggest Sneaker Storylines Heading Into the NBA Season

The NBA landscape has changed quite a bit since the Warriors defeated LeBron James and the Cavaliers back in June. This upcoming season is already full of intrigue and the sneaker storylines might be just as good. With opening night just a few days, we will dig into the biggest sneaker-related questions for this upcoming season, such as the status of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s shoe deal, Kevin Durant vs. Stephen Curry and the impact of Kyrie Irving’s move to Boston.

Will LeBron regain sneaker supremacy?

The sneaker world has evolved and reached a place where lifestyle models have taken over the game and the feet of consumers. Gone are the days where performance sneakers can bring in a ton amount of money in sales off performance aspects alone. Even someone like LeBron James, who may arguably have the second-greatest signature line in history, has suffered from the transition. Last season, LeBron placed second in sneaker sales to none other than Kyrie Irving, thanks to the Kyrie 3.

It is worth noting that Irving’s sneakers have always had a more affordable price point, marketed at $120 compared to LeBron sneakers that have topped $200 several times. As a true business man, LeBron understands that losing the sales battle is not a good look as one of the game's biggest names and brands (Imagine Jordan losing in sneaker sales to Pippen).

The LeBron 15 is one of LeBron’s boldest sneakers yet. It features the same bulk and innovative performance elements that we have come to know with his sneakers but offers an attempt to compete within the flyknit revolution with what Nike calls flyknit battle construction. The sneaker will be a beast on the court as expected?, but has already made its rounds on the scene of fashion shows such the KITH Sport Fashion show. Will this be enough to give James’ groove back? The sneaker will release October 28th for $185. Check back in a few months to see how this sales.

Where will the Greek Freak land?

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best sneaker free agent on the market, and as expected he has numerous suitors vying for his attention. Antetokounmpo’s Nike contract recently expired, and with his potential untapped, brands are trying to do anything to land him. Not only has Antetokounmpo showed his talent on the court, but he has become a fan favorite off it for his jubilant personality. The Greek import comes from humble beginnings and has morphed into a serious MVP candidate in just a short span of time. Antetokounmpo was a huge fan of Kobe’s signature line, often wearing the Kobe X and Kobe A.D. models.

Adidas was the first brand to publicly make their pitch, sending over a van full of products to Antetokounmpo outside the Bucks training facility.

Despite the gray news surrounding the brand over the NCAA controversy, Adidas has been on a streak as of late within the sneaker industry after news broke out that the brand surpassed Jordan Brand for second place in terms of sales in the U.S. basketball market. The three-stripes roster also includes a young crop of guys like Kristaps Porzingis and Andrew Wiggins, bringing in Antetokounmpo? would create an ultimate and fun trio.

According to Nick DePaula of ESPN, Li-Ning will also make a huge push to get their hands on the Greek Freak. Li-Ning has shown itself to be a true player in the sneaker war business as more and more NBA players are opting out traditional deals with historic brands in hopes of landing more money and possibly a signature shoe. The brand recently signed Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum to a deal. Dwyane Wade is currently on his sixth model with the brand and is still one of the most marketable NBA players in the league. The Greek Freak has the talent and the personality to take a brand to new heights. I wouldn't be surprised if he took this route, but it's worth noting that Nike has the right to match any deal with Antetokounmpo.

What is this season's most anticipated sneaker?

As we get closer and closer to the start of the NBA season, more and more players will be unveiling their signature sneakers. Stephen Curry and Under Armour strategically unveiled the Curry 4 during the NBA Finals when the world was watching. Kevin Durant is usually the first superstar to release his sneakers as his target dates always land during the summer time. We have already discussed the LeBron 15. But what is next to drop? Here are three sneakers I can’t wait to see.

Nike PG2

You have to give it to Nike and Paul George for doing everything right for the release of a first signature sneaker. The $110 price point was a great test for consumers to see if they would bite on a PG-13 silhouette, and it turns out they did. Not only did the PG1 have an excellent price, the sneaker is dope. I have not seen a wack colorway for the PG1 yet, and the sneaker released back in March. The PG1 is going to be one tough act to follow.

Nike Kyrie 4

It is going to be interesting to see how Kyrie Irving elevates his brand in Boston. Irving has had one of the most successful starts for a signature sneaker line and still remains a favorite within the young demographic of hoop fans. The thing is, it is not hard to market Kyrie because he does an exceptional job of building hype off his play alone. The Kyrie 3 was a solid performance model and came out a great price. Photos of his fourth model has leaked on the Internet, but it’s hard to judge a shoe off sample images. There is an image of him on set of his Uncle Drew movie with what seems like his newest model but you never know. With Irving having his own team now, all eyes will be on him this year and his shoes.

Adidas Harden Vol. 2

Adidas jumped over the Jumpman? Kanye’s own prophecy didn’t exactly come true but he did create a brand new hype machine surrounding the three-striped brand. One name that had a lot to do with Adidas’s new found life in the basketball sneaker market in the U.S. is James Harden. The brand transitioned into their lifestyle mantra just in time and found a great endorser in the Beard who shelled out a pretty great first signature model, the Harden Vol. 1. It is going to be interesting to see how Adidas prepares this upcoming season with the Nike officially taking over the NBA. They have invested a lot in Harden, and it is only right that Vol. 2 keeps the momentum building.

Did the state of Jordan Brand change this summer?

WELL... the news break of Jordan Brand ending Carmelo Anthony’s signature line came as a surprise. Anthony quickly downplayed the news insisting that he just signed an extension with the brand.

Jordan Brand officially released this statement regarding the future of Melo's signature line. “Melo is a long-time and respected member of the Jordan family. As is the case with all Jordan family athletes, we work together with Melo on a footwear plan each year, and no decisions have been finalized about future models. Any decision made will be a collaborative one between Melo and Jordan Brand.”

Melo has the fifth-longest running signature line to date and it will be a sad way to go out without proving himself once more in OKC alongside Russell Westbrook, who just inked a long-term contract with the brand.

Jordan Brand loves the idea of CP3 in Houston, and it gives them more room to dominate in another city, especially in an effort to steal Harden’s Adidas shine.

In terms of Jordan products, we will see a mix of old sprinkled in with? the new. The brand will celebrate MJ this holiday season with the Air Jordan XI in two colorways that pay homage to Jordan’s collegiate and professional championships.

In terms of PE’s, they have that covered as well. You should expect Westbrook to wear some crazy colorways of the Air Jordan XXXII this season.

Is there a sneaker war in Golden State?

According to this picture, it doesn’t look like it. Yes, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are two of the biggest names in the NBA, and of course there will be some kind of fun/competitive tension revolving around their sneakers. I don’t believe the two are actually beefing over their shoes, but we should not be blind to the fact that Nike and Under Armour reps are probably watching every single move on the other side. I am all for the conspiracy theory that Nike persuaded Durant to join the Warriors to destroy Curry’s signature line.

Lost in the midst of this “sneaker war” is the third signature player on the Warriors roster, Anta’s Klay Thompson who may have the greatest sneaker commercial since “It’s Gotta be the Shoes”.

Will the Big Baller Brand have any impact?

You have to give it to the Ball family for going all out and believing in their brand. Lonzo even had the guts to remix his own sneaker before it even released.

While it may be fun and games to some who see what the House of LaVar has built, it is going to be intriguing to watch how many young prospects opt to go in a different route with brands or create their own. Whether you like it or not, Big Baller Brand may have started something.

Oral History: Kendrick Perkins, the NBA's Best Teammate

Kevin Durant shuffled behind the glass podium, peering across two rows of his 2013-14 Oklahoma City Thunder teammates. He thanks Hasheem Thabeet for his comic relief. He praises Derek Fisher for his infectious professionalism. “Perk,” Durant continues, eying starting center Kendrick Perkins. “I hated you before you got here. But the moment you got here, man, you just changed my whole perception of you. Just one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, man. I thank you so much.”

Durant’s voice begins to waver now. Emotion bubbles in his throat. “The late night calls. You texting me, telling me I’m the MVP.” Durant abruptly stops. He bows his head as the crowd erupts in applause. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player even has to remove his glasses to wipe away the welling tears.

It was a small sequence in an unforgettably heartfelt, 20-plus minute acceptance speech from Durant, yet a highly regular sentiment owned by countless players across the NBA. Perkins, a lumbering defensive presence with pedestrian career averages of 5.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, is widely considered the greatest teammate in modern NBA history. “He’s the type of guy that’s willing to do whatever it takes to help your teammates,” Russell Westbrook told The Crossover. “The thing that we all love about Perk,” adds Wizards coach Scott Brooks, “is that he cares. He has a big heart and he’s only about winning.”

Perkins established a group text message with Durant and Westbrook upon arriving in Oklahoma City. “I didn’t know KD and Russ from a can of paint,” he says. “I just wanted to get it like how we had it in Boston.” They pinged the thread day and night, dishing football smack and NBA rumors. “We’re in it a lot,” Westbrook said back in April 2016, even after Perkins left the Thunder. “That’s the type of relationship we have [with him].” The group message has been silent following Durant’s departure to Oakland last summer. Perkins thinks it will resume activity in the future. “At least they’re talking to each other again,” he said. “I know they had talked right after they announced Russ won MVP. They texted. I think they broke the ice.”

Perkins’s influence followed Durant to Golden State. LeBron James and the Cavaliers still hear his voice emanating in Cleveland’s training camp. He has deep connections with Doc Rivers and the Clippers, Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves, Scott Brooks and the Wizards, and Alvin Gentry, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo in New Orleans. His leadership style will empower Westbrook to coexist with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. His former teammate Kyrie Irving will look to rule his former home in Boston. So how exactly did a shy child from Beaumont, Texas, establish an enduring legacy amongst the NBA’s elite?

(The following interviews have been lightly edited for clarity).

?

'He Was a Quiet Kid'

The town of Beaumont sits 90 minutes east of Houston. Hal Pastner and his son, current Georgia Tech head coach, Josh, launched Perkins’s career in their legendary Houston Hoops AAU program, responsible for grooming the likes of Emeka Okafor, Rashard Lewis, Stephen Jackson, T.J. Ford and many others.

HAL PASTNER: We just took to Kendrick. He was a quiet kid, really quiet. Kendrick would stay at our house in the summers. He was afraid to go upstairs because it was dark.

JOSH PASTNER: [Kendrick] always had long arms and was kinda gangly. It didn’t matter if you were up 20, down 20, he had that death stare toward you. He was like one of those secret service agents.

HAL PASTNER: Right around around the same time we found Kendrick, Ndudi Ebi started with us, and over the summer they both shot up nearly a foot. They were about about 6’7” and lanky. I remember we played LeBron James in eighth grade and we beat ‘em, and LeBron came up to us after the game and said, “Man, we couldn’t stop the twin towers.”

After starring at Lamar University, Kenneth Perkins left his wife and 18-month-old son, Kendrick, to play professionally in New Zealand. When Kendrick was 5 years old, his mother was shot dead while working at a beauty salon. Essentially orphaned, Perkins’s maternal grandparents claimed his custody. His basketball family also reared him.

HAL PASTNER: Coach Boutte really started looking after him later on.

ANDRE BOUTTE, OZEN HIGH SCHOOL HEAD COACH: He needed that father figure at the time. We went fishing every now and then together at Sabine Lake, just talked day-to-day like you would with a son. Any time a kid is that age and went through some of the things he did, the most important thing is try to put a smile on their face.

From 1999 to 2003, Perkins led Ozen High to four district championships and one state title. Behind his 27.5 points, 16.4 rebounds and 7.8 blocked shots per game as a senior, Ozen compiled a 33-1 record, only losing in the state 4A championship game.

MIKE KUNSTADT, TEXAS HOOPS MAGAZINE: He just used his body so well to get around the basket. And once he was there, he just overpowered you. He didn’t have explosiveness as far as blocking shots, but long arms and good timing and was a great rim protector.

BOUTTE: [Then-Celtics GM] Chris Wallace came to a game. [Spurs GM] R.C. Buford was at one of our games. He signed with Memphis early. He was gonna go play for [John] Calipari, because I wanted him to play for an NBA–type coach that would work him real hard. It wasn’t until he actually declared [for the NBA draft] that you had a little contact to see where he was gonna be slotted. We were pretty confident he would go first round.

Early Year Enforcer

The Celtics acquired Kendrick Perkins, the No. 27 pick in the 2003 NBA draft, from the Grizzlies in a draft-night trade, fully prepared for the colossal 18-year-old to essentially redshirt his rookie season.

BOUTTE: It was like the world being lifted off of his shoulders. But any time you have a high school kid, you’re concerned about whether or not they’re gonna be able to take the day-to-day rigors of NBA life.

DANNY AINGE, CELTICS GM: When he came in for his draft workout, he was well over 300 pounds, over 22% body fat, a 22-inch vertical only. He was overweight. He needed a lot of work on his body.

JAMIE YOUNG, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH: The first thing Perk really started doing was working his body into shape.

PERKINS: It was hard. I didn’t get a chance to play much. They basically sat me out a whole year just to work on my body. It was a different experience for sure, but it was something I needed to do to get my career going.

AINGE: He sort of went from being a fat kid to being cut. My office looks right down into the weight room, and I remember Kendrick—I could see him, he didn’t see me—I could see him looking at himself in the mirror with his shirt off. It was funny, it was cute, but it was symbolic of just how hard he had worked and how gratifying it was for him to see the results.

MIKE JAMES, CELTICS GUARD (2003-04): He was quiet because he was listening. He was learning, soaking everything in. He was paying his dues, paying his respects, being a rookie.

PAUL PIERCE, CELTICS FORWARD (1998-2013): He was my little young rookie. A lot of times, veterans rub off on them.

WALTER MCCARTY, CELTICS FORWARD (1997-05): Him and Brandon Hunter, me being one of the veterans, I was switching out TVs in my house, I had about four or five of the old TVs and I had the rookies come over: Take the new one’s up, bring the old ones down, and had ‘em working for me out there at the house. It was pretty funny to see these young kids running in an out, big strong young guys and just putting them to work.

A young Perkins worked his hardest during practice the following season. When the Celtics drafted the 6’10" Al Jefferson at No. 15 in the 2004 NBA draft, Boston not only added a promising frontcourt talent, but a sparring partner for Big Perk.

MCCARTY: They used to go at it. Perk went at it with everybody.

DOC RIVERS, CELTICS HEAD COACH (2004-13): They played tons of 1-on-1. There were many times where you actually contemplated stopping it because you’re like, “One of these guys is gonna get hurt.” That’s how physical it was.

CLIFFORD RAY, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2005-10): They really had some good battles. I thought Al made Perk better, because he was such a prolific scorer. We used to call him Buckets. He used to say, ‘Yea, coach. I just get buckets!’ Al Jefferson has tremendous ability. He had a God given gift. Perk was the opposite. He was a true center. When I look at Perk, he was always our best defender. If someone was going to come down the middle, he would be there. He knew when to go for the shot block and when to take the charge.

RIVERS: Perk and Al were just trying to find themselves. Al was the offensive guy. I think that actually helped Perk a lot. It helped him define a role early in his career.

YOUNG: His role was more of an enforcer.

The Celtics were still rebuilding around Pierce during the 2006-07 season, but began to play with the edge of a playoff contender. When Boston visited the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 11 that winter, Perkins displayed his burgeoning reputation as a defensive anchor.

TOM THIBODEAU, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2007-10): Perk really starred in his role and his role really was to do a lot of the dirty work.

JAMES: He was always throwing his lip up and frowning. He was angry.

GERALD GREEN, CELTICS GUARD (2005-07): He was the enforcer, so sometimes he might have to make a hard foul.

YOUNG: I remember playing Minnesota and I remember Perk talking a lot of trash to [Kevin Garnett].

JAMES: Kendrick’s not gonna back down from no one. He’s not a punk.

RIVERS: The thing I liked about Perk was he didn’t care that you were KG or Kobe or Michael or whoever it was. He was convinced that you couldn’t score on him. He always made the comment, “You may be great, but not tonight.” I used to love it. I thought it really irritated star players.

KEVIN GARNETT, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES FORWARD (1995-2007): We had obviously clashed and had numerous occasions where we banged a little bit. When you’re older and the big dog, you got little pups and stuff wanting to come at you night in and night out. It always got me going. It always motivated me.

PIERCE: They almost got into a fight.

YOUNG: I don’t remember exactly what happened postgame, but there was a little—there wasn't any physical altercation—but there was some verbal altercation between the two.

Big Three Era

Perkins’s barking still rang in Garnett’s ears when Minnesota and Boston discussed a blockbuster trade on draft night that June. The Celtics remained firm: Boston would only exchange Jefferson and a horde of other assets if Garnett agreed to a contract extension. Talks regained steam in July, with Boston having already acquired sharpshooting, All-Star guard Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics. This time, before ultimately signing, Garnett phoned Pierce.

PIERCE: Kevin was like, “What’s up with Perk? Is he gonna want to fight me when I come to the team?”

GARNETT, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-13): I asked Paul, not really concerned but I just wanted to come into it, handle whatever we needed to handle.

PIERCE: I was like, “Man, you don’t even know how much he look up to you.” Kevin couldn’t believe it.

GARNETT: We sat and we talked. The first day I got there, we were like best friends. Once we got on the same page, man, we were off and running. I’m not gonna take anybody that doesn’t want to work. I don’t like people who complained. I don’t like people who don’t have a work ethic. I don’t do quitters. I wanted to see how he worked on his own. Perk was just similar to me. We were grinders, kind of physical specimens.

PIERCE: It was like seeing a big brother look out for his little brother—take him out to the backyard, let’s go play catch—it looked like that.

RAY ALLEN, CELTICS (2007-12): When we got there, KG, it really gave him somebody that he can see and kind of look up to. When he got to see KG work, he had somebody that was always going to communicate with him, somebody that was always gonna have his back. He started emulating what KG was.

PIERCE: Kevin inspired a lot of the kids in the league that came out of high school.

AINGE: I think they had a mutual admiration for each other, because both of those guys were 100% team guys and both of those guys were hard-working, tough-minded. That’s why they hit it off so quick. It’s tough to win KG over. I don’t think it took Perk very long at all before he had KG’s respect.

RIVERS: I do remember the first practice. The trash talking. It was really the second unit vs. the first unit. It was distracting. It was literally 30 minutes into the first practice that we ever had and Eddie House and James Posey and that group decided that they weren’t going to take any crap from the first unit.

JAMES POSEY, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-08): It was intense, being that was the first start of our journey, having a chance and thinking we could win it all.

RIVERS: I had to blow the whistle two or three times and just tell ‘em, “Either you can play, or you can talk. The first group is able to do both. But the guys that can’t, shut up!”

ALLEN: We were a bunch of A-type personality guys.

GARNETT: We got into arguments, we got into fights, we wrestled. We were a team full of barbarians. We were like 300. It was us against the world, straight out. If you ask anybody from that team, we felt like we were straight up warriors and straight up Greek gods and goddesses and all this other shit.

MIKE ZARREN, CELTICS ASSISTANT GM: That group just worked great together. Everybody understood what their role was. Kevin preferred to play 4, rather than 5. He loved to have Perk around to take the brunt of the banging with other big buys. Perk was happy to do that as well.

GARNETT: We were responsible for talking, if not calling out defenses as far as strategies, coverages and stuff like that. Doc put that responsibility on us. We were both decent passers. Him and I, we gelled quicker on the court, as far as basketball, more than anybody else.

PERKINS: When [KG] first got [to Boston]: “Hey listen, me and you, we gonna anchor the defense, we’re gonna set screens and get Paul and Ray open, and when I hit you with the pass, make sure you be ready to finish.”

MIKE GORMAN, CSNNE CELTICS PLAY-BY-PLAY: I always thought that a lot of KG’s bravado was backed up by the fact that, if you looked immediately over his right-hand shoulder, Perk was standing there. I always thought Perk was kind of the man behind the myth there. He had a cop standing right behind him to take care of business if things didn’t work out.

THIBODEAU: He was obviously a big part of the championship team. A very hard guy to score against and offensively, probably didn’t get enough credit for setting great screens and being real active.

Boston indeed claimed the 2008 title that June, in six games over the Los Angeles Lakers. As the Celtics contended for the championship over the next three years, Perkins emerged from Garnett’s tutelage as the consummate professional.

PIERCE: He’ll sacrifice anything for his teammates. He’ll give you the last chair at breakfast, he’ll make sure the younger guys are alright. To earn respect, you have to give respect, and that’s what Perkins is.

GARNETT: If you know anything about his upbringing, he had a pretty tough upbringing, lost his moms. He became a breadwinner in the house very early, learned a lot of different things from different people.

PERKINS: Your upbringing plays a major part in how you act as a person. I’m just a guy where, if I’m with you, I’m all the way with you. They’re ain’t no half and half. If I’m with you, I’ma ride with you til the end.

GREEN: Sometimes Perk was the incredible Hulk, sometimes he was the teddy bear. Perk bought me so much stuff, man. My rookie year he took me shopping. We went to L.A. and there was a guy named Faruk. He used to always have jeans and stuff. Perk bought me, like, four or five outfits.

MARQUIS DANIELS, CELTICS GUARD (2009-12): There were other guys that didn’t have their car in town yet and he’s like, “Here you can borrow my car. You can come to my house and eat.” Or he’d take them out to eat.

BILL WALKER, CELTICS FORWARD (2008-10): He would always call me when we were on the road to hang out with him. We'd go for food and he would just tell me stories about how to prepare and how to work. He always was encouraging and always willing to help me break down things on film to get better.

BRIAN SCALABRINE, CELTICS FORWARD (2006-10): He still remembers my kids' names and I haven’t played with Perk in over six years and, at the time, my kids were 2 and just a newborn.

After falling short in 2009, the Celtics returned to the Finals in 2010. Boston carried a 3-2 lead back to Los Angeles for Games 6 and 7 against the Lakers. Just under seven minutes into Game 6, Perkins crashed to the floor after battling for a rebound.

TONY ALLEN, CELTICS GUARD (2004-10): [Perk] was one of the best centers in the league before his injury.

ZARREN: The moment it happened on the court, his knee didn’t move in a way that was awful. You see some nasty knee injuries, that wasn’t one, in terms of how it looked live or watching replays.

ALLEN: I was scared for him, for his health and safety. And then I was scared for our ability to win an NBA championship after that because I thought, “How could we win it without him?”

AINGE: It was tough to see him go down.

ZARREN: He came back to the locker room and by the time we got down there it was pretty clear it was a significant knee injury. Everyone was just crying in the locker room.

RIVERS: For me, it more was emotional that Perk wouldn’t have the chance to play in that Game 7.

ZARREN: We had played pretty well with Rasheed [Wallace] playing that year.

RAY ALLEN: We just had to try and steal one more game.

RIVERS: It actually showed the value of Perk quite a bit. It took away our enforcer. Kevin had to spend half the game trying to be that and play and I thought that took a lot out of him.

DANIELS: I think he made a huge difference between us having a ring that year and not getting one.

PERKINS: Defense wasn’t the problem, it was who wanted it the most. And I actually think they went and took it from us.

ZARREN: There’s a certain swagger about Perk that he brought to that team. Who knows how the next game would have gone if Perk had played? The losing still hurts so bad. None of us, I’m sure Perk included, will ever get over that game.

Testing proved Perkins tore his right ACL, forcing him to rehab for the majority of the following season. After Perkins played just 12 games for the Celtics in 2011, Boston re-evaluated the future of their frontcourt and set its sights on Oklahoma City swingman Jeff Green, ultimately dealing Perkins for him at the trade deadline.

PERKINS: I cried.

AINGE: It was very difficult. I loved him. We sort of raised him. We just knew that he was going to be very expensive. He became so expensive to Oklahoma City that they had to move [James] Harden.

ZARREN: There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when we agreed to that trade.

RIVERS: I would say in the years that I’ve coached, it was the hardest trade for me. It was the hardest reaction that I’ve ever seen in a locker room as a coach. There were literally tears in the locker room. It was almost like a death.

ALLEN: I was hurting for him, because I knew where his heart was. I knew he had only played for one team his whole career. He wanted what everybody else wanted. He wanted to be compensated, he wanted to make enough money so he could take care of his family.

DANIELS: It’s like, “Man, we lost a key component to our team. He’s like a brother.”

RIVERS: That starting lineup, [when healthy] has never lost a playoff series.

GARNETT: I wish Danny Ainge would have paid attention to that.

Thunder Buddies

Perkins inked a four-year, $36 million contract extension with the Thunder that March. With OKC fresh off its first playoff appearance in 2010, Perkins’s arrival perfectly preceded a deep playoff run. The Thunder reached the conference finals in 2011 and the Finals in 2012. OKC never missed the postseason during Perkins’s tenure.

BOUTTE: He was hurt when he first went to Oklahoma, but him being such a good teammate, he was the perfect person for the organization at the time.

PERKINS: I watched how [Garnett] worked, I watched how he operated, I watched his leadership skills and I just took it all in and brought it to my next stop.

PIERCE: That’s the reason you saw Perkins wore No. 5 [Garnett’s number in Boston] when he went to Oklahoma City.

NICK COLLISON, THUNDER FORWARD: We were starting to play in playoff series. A lot of us hadn’t had much experience there, so I think he was great for us at that time. He really deserves a lot of credit for the success we’ve had over the years.

PERKINS: Our first shootaround, I came in and [Durant and Westbrook] was laughing and joking and I was like, “Ay man, listen up. Lock in.” I remember them kind of barking back and got into an argument. But we ain’t have no problems ever since.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, THUNDER GUARD: He didn’t hold nothing back. If he saw something that would help our team, he’d let you know.

RONNIE BREWER, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): The mentality our Thunder team had, you’re not going to push us around, he did that.

ANTHONY MORROW, THUNDER GUARD (2014-17): He knew how to connect with different guys in just a couple words to light a fire under him and get him going. It was definitely unique to see that.

ANDRE ROBERSON, THUNDER GUARD: His house was always open.

WESTBROOK: People would come by, just chill, enjoy each other’s company, maybe watch a game or some boxing, whatever was on TV that day.

REGGIE JACKSON, THUNDER GUARD (2011-15): I had times where Perk showed up to my house just because he could tell I had a bad week. It was perfect timing, it was the right words, it just kept me chugging along.

COLLISON: The big thing with him is that he always had a good feel on where collectively the morale was.

CARON BUTLER, THUNDER FORWARD (2014): Late night, he’d send texts like after a tough loss. He couldn’t sleep. He’d text you at two, three in the morning. “How you doing? Damn, man. What you see out there?”

THABO SEFOLOSHA, THUNDER FORWARD (2008-14): It was always about how we can improve, things we can do better, things that we did well that night, keeping it up.

WESTBROOK: If I had a bad game, he’d call. If I had a good game, he’d call. I know if I needed to call somebody at 3, 4 in the morning, he’s always gonna be up to answer the phone regardless of what’s going on. That’s what makes him special. It’s not just one time, it’s not once a week, it’s all the time.

GARNETT: I taught him how to communicate.

PERKINS: Everybody who has my phone, they can call me anytime. If I’m up, I’ll answer it. There was a time, KD was struggling mentally and he just called me. Russell went down. Even before he started getting into the chatter about the MVP conversation. I was telling him, ‘Hey man, you’re the MVP. You can do this.”

SERGE IBAKA, THUNDER FORWARD (2009-16): On the bench, off the bench, he’s going to talk. He loves to talk, use his voice, to get your confidence up when your confidence is down.

STEVEN ADAMS, THUNDER CENTER: He did give me some advice, but it seems a bit brutish: “Go out and make sure you hit this guy.”

JACKSON: Everybody always sees the persona of him, just this mean guy on the court, but off of the court he’s this big teddy bear.

DEANDRE LIGGINS, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): When I got to OKC, I went to the store for him. He gave me this big lump sum for no reason. Like, “Go to Starbucks for me and get some coffee,” and he gave me like $1,000 and told me to keep the change.

BUTLER: He was always honest in film. [In the 2014 playoffs, down 2-1 to Memphis], we ended up winning that and going to the Western Conference finals just because of the conversation that he led in [a] film session.

PERKINS: I told KD he was the best player in the league and he needed to act like it.

SEFOLOSHA: It was real intense. Our backs were against the wall and he knew what we needed to do. The message got through to everybody.

WESTBROOK: He wanted to have a man-to-man type of speech, and I think that was something we needed as a group and our entire defense to buckle down.

ADAMS: That’s why people like him and that’s why a lot of teams want him around. Nobody gets away with anything, he makes sure you’re honest and do whatever your job is.

The Last Chapter

As the 2014-15 season approached its midway point, Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti schemed to surround Durant and Westbrook with younger, more malleable frontcourt talent. The Thunder bid Perkins farewell in exchange for Utah forward Enes Kanter in a three-team trade. The Jazz ultimately waived Perkins, opening the door for another shot at a title.

THIBODEAU, CHICAGO BULLS HEAD COACH (2010-2015): I talked to him about coming to Chicago.

RIVERS: There is no better guy to have on your team to help facilitate roles to the other teammates than Perk.

PERKINS: I felt like Cleveland was the best in the East and they would have the easiest walk to the Finals. That’s what made me choose. It was hard turning down Doc and Thibs, but I had to.

DAVID BLATT, CAVALIERS HEAD COACH (2014-16): Getting Perk at the time frame that we did was great for us. We had a good locker room, but Perk is another strong voice and experienced leader.

POSEY, CAVALIERS ASSISTANT COACH: A couple times, he got the guys together from afar, like, “Yo, this some bullshit. We out there bullshitting around, we fucking around. We got a good opportunity. Pick this shit up.” He looked at people in the face. Pointing ‘em out. “Come on! What you gonna do? What we gonna do?” Everybody, they got the point, they got the message.

PERKINS: They was looking at me like, “What the fuck?” I was just letting them know I was all in.

J.R. SMITH, CAVALIERS GUARD: Right around 78, 79 games, something like that, he was telling everybody, “This is a tough ride, we about to buckle down.”

IMAN SHUMPERT, CAVALIERS GUARD: Perk is unbelievable with keeping his mind set on what the bigger picture is.

JAMES JONES, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-17): He’s really all about business when it’s time for business. He doesn’t hold back. If it’s LeBron, if it’s a rookie, if it’s a coach, if it’s the GM, he’ll point ‘em out if it’s not the right thing. He just holds everyone accountable regardless of position or status.

PERKINS: Bron, he took a backseat and let me be a leader. He was letting me talk a lot—pregame speeches—and they gave me a voice right off the bat.

MIKE MILLER, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-15): He is to me, one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had and I only had him for half a year.

Perkins departed Cleveland after its championship loss to Golden State for the New Orleans Pelicans and a chance to mentor Anthony Davis in 2015-16.

DANTE CUNNINGHAM, PELICANS FORWARD: He would’ve been a [veteran] that I wanted to have coming in. Just his knowledge of the game, his knowledge off the court, just how personable he is, just making sure that you’re doing well not only as a player but as a person.

ALVIN GENTRY, PELICANS HEAD COACH: The great thing about it was that Anthony has a lot of respect for him. It wasn’t unlike Perk to challenge him in a lot of situations and have Anthony respond to it. It was a good relationship. They did everything together. They spent a lot of time talking, even during the games, Perk was pulling him to the side and saying certain things to him.

PERKINS: I got a chance to play with a lot of future Hall of Famers and I don’t take that for granted one day.

At 32 years old, Perkins texted Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue to rejoin Cleveland for training camp after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign. He'd been training three times a day back in Houston. The Cavs didn’t hesitate welcoming him back into their locker room. Perkins seems like a natural fit on a team full of veterans, focused solely on a championship. Although a roster crunch could ultimately end his career, many expect Perkins to have a long tenure coaching in the NBA. Regardless of his future, he’s left a lasting imprint on the league.

PERKINS: I’d love to coach when I finish playing one day. I know a lot of GMs that value my knowledge of the game. I would have a lot of options. I probably would call up Oklahoma City.

PIERCE: Perk is probably one of the last of the old school vets that learned from the older guys in the way of giving back to the young guys. That’s just the type of person he is. You see that big scowl on his face, he look all mean on the court, but off the court, all his teammates love him.

GARNETT: I love him. That’s my real life brother, man. We have a super strong connection. That bond will never be broken and I’d do anything for ‘em.

WESTBROOK: He’s one of the most unselfish guys I know, just willing to sacrifice to help other people out.

RIVERS: He’s a sunshine guy. There’s guys who bring sunshine. He’s one of those guys.

Oral History: Kendrick Perkins, the NBA's Best Teammate

Kevin Durant shuffled behind the glass podium, peering across two rows of his 2013-14 Oklahoma City Thunder teammates. He thanks Hasheem Thabeet for his comic relief. He praises Derek Fisher for his infectious professionalism. “Perk,” Durant continues, eying starting center Kendrick Perkins. “I hated you before you got here. But the moment you got here, man, you just changed my whole perception of you. Just one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, man. I thank you so much.”

Durant’s voice begins to waver now. Emotion bubbles in his throat. “The late night calls. You texting me, telling me I’m the MVP.” Durant abruptly stops. He bows his head as the crowd erupts in applause. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player even has to remove his glasses to wipe away the welling tears.

It was a small sequence in an unforgettably heartfelt, 20-plus minute acceptance speech from Durant, yet a highly regular sentiment owned by countless players across the NBA. Perkins, a lumbering defensive presence with pedestrian career averages of 5.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, is widely considered the greatest teammate in modern NBA history. “He’s the type of guy that’s willing to do whatever it takes to help your teammates,” Russell Westbrook told The Crossover. “The thing that we all love about Perk,” adds Wizards coach Scott Brooks, “is that he cares. He has a big heart and he’s only about winning.”

Perkins established a group text message with Durant and Westbrook upon arriving in Oklahoma City. “I didn’t know KD and Russ from a can of paint,” he says. “I just wanted to get it like how we had it in Boston.” They pinged the thread day and night, dishing football smack and NBA rumors. “We’re in it a lot,” Westbrook said back in April 2016, even after Perkins left the Thunder. “That’s the type of relationship we have [with him].” The group message has been silent following Durant’s departure to Oakland last summer. Perkins thinks it will resume activity in the future. “At least they’re talking to each other again,” he said. “I know they had talked right after they announced Russ won MVP. They texted. I think they broke the ice.”

Perkins’s influence followed Durant to Golden State. LeBron James and the Cavaliers still hear his voice emanating in Cleveland’s training camp. He has deep connections with Doc Rivers and the Clippers, Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves, Scott Brooks and the Wizards, and Alvin Gentry, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo in New Orleans. His leadership style will empower Westbrook to coexist with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. His former teammate Kyrie Irving will look to rule his former home in Boston. So how exactly did a shy child from Beaumont, Texas, establish an enduring legacy amongst the NBA’s elite?

(The following interviews have been lightly edited for clarity).

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'He Was a Quiet Kid'

The town of Beaumont sits 90 minutes east of Houston. Hal Pastner and his son, current Georgia Tech head coach, Josh, launched Perkins’s career in their legendary Houston Hoops AAU program, responsible for grooming the likes of Emeka Okafor, Rashard Lewis, Stephen Jackson, T.J. Ford and many others.

HAL PASTNER: We just took to Kendrick. He was a quiet kid, really quiet. Kendrick would stay at our house in the summers. He was afraid to go upstairs because it was dark.

JOSH PASTNER: [Kendrick] always had long arms and was kinda gangly. It didn’t matter if you were up 20, down 20, he had that death stare toward you. He was like one of those secret service agents.

HAL PASTNER: Right around around the same time we found Kendrick, Ndudi Ebi started with us, and over the summer they both shot up nearly a foot. They were about about 6’7” and lanky. I remember we played LeBron James in eighth grade and we beat ‘em, and LeBron came up to us after the game and said, “Man, we couldn’t stop the twin towers.”

After starring at Lamar University, Kenneth Perkins left his wife and 18-month-old son, Kendrick, to play professionally in New Zealand. When Kendrick was 5 years old, his mother was shot dead while working at a beauty salon. Essentially orphaned, Perkins’s maternal grandparents claimed his custody. His basketball family also reared him.

HAL PASTNER: Coach Boutte really started looking after him later on.

ANDRE BOUTTE, OZEN HIGH SCHOOL HEAD COACH: He needed that father figure at the time. We went fishing every now and then together at Sabine Lake, just talked day-to-day like you would with a son. Any time a kid is that age and went through some of the things he did, the most important thing is try to put a smile on their face.

From 1999 to 2003, Perkins led Ozen High to four district championships and one state title. Behind his 27.5 points, 16.4 rebounds and 7.8 blocked shots per game as a senior, Ozen compiled a 33-1 record, only losing in the state 4A championship game.

MIKE KUNSTADT, TEXAS HOOPS MAGAZINE: He just used his body so well to get around the basket. And once he was there, he just overpowered you. He didn’t have explosiveness as far as blocking shots, but long arms and good timing and was a great rim protector.

BOUTTE: [Then-Celtics GM] Chris Wallace came to a game. [Spurs GM] R.C. Buford was at one of our games. He signed with Memphis early. He was gonna go play for [John] Calipari, because I wanted him to play for an NBA–type coach that would work him real hard. It wasn’t until he actually declared [for the NBA draft] that you had a little contact to see where he was gonna be slotted. We were pretty confident he would go first round.

Early Year Enforcer

The Celtics acquired Kendrick Perkins, the No. 27 pick in the 2003 NBA draft, from the Grizzlies in a draft-night trade, fully prepared for the colossal 18-year-old to essentially redshirt his rookie season.

BOUTTE: It was like the world being lifted off of his shoulders. But any time you have a high school kid, you’re concerned about whether or not they’re gonna be able to take the day-to-day rigors of NBA life.

DANNY AINGE, CELTICS GM: When he came in for his draft workout, he was well over 300 pounds, over 22% body fat, a 22-inch vertical only. He was overweight. He needed a lot of work on his body.

JAMIE YOUNG, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH: The first thing Perk really started doing was working his body into shape.

PERKINS: It was hard. I didn’t get a chance to play much. They basically sat me out a whole year just to work on my body. It was a different experience for sure, but it was something I needed to do to get my career going.

AINGE: He sort of went from being a fat kid to being cut. My office looks right down into the weight room, and I remember Kendrick—I could see him, he didn’t see me—I could see him looking at himself in the mirror with his shirt off. It was funny, it was cute, but it was symbolic of just how hard he had worked and how gratifying it was for him to see the results.

MIKE JAMES, CELTICS GUARD (2003-04): He was quiet because he was listening. He was learning, soaking everything in. He was paying his dues, paying his respects, being a rookie.

PAUL PIERCE, CELTICS FORWARD (1998-2013): He was my little young rookie. A lot of times, veterans rub off on them.

WALTER MCCARTY, CELTICS FORWARD (1997-05): Him and Brandon Hunter, me being one of the veterans, I was switching out TVs in my house, I had about four or five of the old TVs and I had the rookies come over: Take the new one’s up, bring the old ones down, and had ‘em working for me out there at the house. It was pretty funny to see these young kids running in an out, big strong young guys and just putting them to work.

A young Perkins worked his hardest during practice the following season. When the Celtics drafted the 6’10" Al Jefferson at No. 15 in the 2004 NBA draft, Boston not only added a promising frontcourt talent, but a sparring partner for Big Perk.

MCCARTY: They used to go at it. Perk went at it with everybody.

DOC RIVERS, CELTICS HEAD COACH (2004-13): They played tons of 1-on-1. There were many times where you actually contemplated stopping it because you’re like, “One of these guys is gonna get hurt.” That’s how physical it was.

CLIFFORD RAY, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2005-10): They really had some good battles. I thought Al made Perk better, because he was such a prolific scorer. We used to call him Buckets. He used to say, ‘Yea, coach. I just get buckets!’ Al Jefferson has tremendous ability. He had a God given gift. Perk was the opposite. He was a true center. When I look at Perk, he was always our best defender. If someone was going to come down the middle, he would be there. He knew when to go for the shot block and when to take the charge.

RIVERS: Perk and Al were just trying to find themselves. Al was the offensive guy. I think that actually helped Perk a lot. It helped him define a role early in his career.

YOUNG: His role was more of an enforcer.

The Celtics were still rebuilding around Pierce during the 2006-07 season, but began to play with the edge of a playoff contender. When Boston visited the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 11 that winter, Perkins displayed his burgeoning reputation as a defensive anchor.

TOM THIBODEAU, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2007-10): Perk really starred in his role and his role really was to do a lot of the dirty work.

JAMES: He was always throwing his lip up and frowning. He was angry.

GERALD GREEN, CELTICS GUARD (2005-07): He was the enforcer, so sometimes he might have to make a hard foul.

YOUNG: I remember playing Minnesota and I remember Perk talking a lot of trash to [Kevin Garnett].

JAMES: Kendrick’s not gonna back down from no one. He’s not a punk.

RIVERS: The thing I liked about Perk was he didn’t care that you were KG or Kobe or Michael or whoever it was. He was convinced that you couldn’t score on him. He always made the comment, “You may be great, but not tonight.” I used to love it. I thought it really irritated star players.

KEVIN GARNETT, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES FORWARD (1995-2007): We had obviously clashed and had numerous occasions where we banged a little bit. When you’re older and the big dog, you got little pups and stuff wanting to come at you night in and night out. It always got me going. It always motivated me.

PIERCE: They almost got into a fight.

YOUNG: I don’t remember exactly what happened postgame, but there was a little—there wasn't any physical altercation—but there was some verbal altercation between the two.

Big Three Era

Perkins’s barking still rang in Garnett’s ears when Minnesota and Boston discussed a blockbuster trade on draft night that June. The Celtics remained firm: Boston would only exchange Jefferson and a horde of other assets if Garnett agreed to a contract extension. Talks regained steam in July, with Boston having already acquired sharpshooting, All-Star guard Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics. This time, before ultimately signing, Garnett phoned Pierce.

PIERCE: Kevin was like, “What’s up with Perk? Is he gonna want to fight me when I come to the team?”

GARNETT, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-13): I asked Paul, not really concerned but I just wanted to come into it, handle whatever we needed to handle.

PIERCE: I was like, “Man, you don’t even know how much he look up to you.” Kevin couldn’t believe it.

GARNETT: We sat and we talked. The first day I got there, we were like best friends. Once we got on the same page, man, we were off and running. I’m not gonna take anybody that doesn’t want to work. I don’t like people who complained. I don’t like people who don’t have a work ethic. I don’t do quitters. I wanted to see how he worked on his own. Perk was just similar to me. We were grinders, kind of physical specimens.

PIERCE: It was like seeing a big brother look out for his little brother—take him out to the backyard, let’s go play catch—it looked like that.

RAY ALLEN, CELTICS (2007-12): When we got there, KG, it really gave him somebody that he can see and kind of look up to. When he got to see KG work, he had somebody that was always going to communicate with him, somebody that was always gonna have his back. He started emulating what KG was.

PIERCE: Kevin inspired a lot of the kids in the league that came out of high school.

AINGE: I think they had a mutual admiration for each other, because both of those guys were 100% team guys and both of those guys were hard-working, tough-minded. That’s why they hit it off so quick. It’s tough to win KG over. I don’t think it took Perk very long at all before he had KG’s respect.

RIVERS: I do remember the first practice. The trash talking. It was really the second unit vs. the first unit. It was distracting. It was literally 30 minutes into the first practice that we ever had and Eddie House and James Posey and that group decided that they weren’t going to take any crap from the first unit.

JAMES POSEY, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-08): It was intense, being that was the first start of our journey, having a chance and thinking we could win it all.

RIVERS: I had to blow the whistle two or three times and just tell ‘em, “Either you can play, or you can talk. The first group is able to do both. But the guys that can’t, shut up!”

ALLEN: We were a bunch of A-type personality guys.

GARNETT: We got into arguments, we got into fights, we wrestled. We were a team full of barbarians. We were like 300. It was us against the world, straight out. If you ask anybody from that team, we felt like we were straight up warriors and straight up Greek gods and goddesses and all this other shit.

MIKE ZARREN, CELTICS ASSISTANT GM: That group just worked great together. Everybody understood what their role was. Kevin preferred to play 4, rather than 5. He loved to have Perk around to take the brunt of the banging with other big buys. Perk was happy to do that as well.

GARNETT: We were responsible for talking, if not calling out defenses as far as strategies, coverages and stuff like that. Doc put that responsibility on us. We were both decent passers. Him and I, we gelled quicker on the court, as far as basketball, more than anybody else.

PERKINS: When [KG] first got [to Boston]: “Hey listen, me and you, we gonna anchor the defense, we’re gonna set screens and get Paul and Ray open, and when I hit you with the pass, make sure you be ready to finish.”

MIKE GORMAN, CSNNE CELTICS PLAY-BY-PLAY: I always thought that a lot of KG’s bravado was backed up by the fact that, if you looked immediately over his right-hand shoulder, Perk was standing there. I always thought Perk was kind of the man behind the myth there. He had a cop standing right behind him to take care of business if things didn’t work out.

THIBODEAU: He was obviously a big part of the championship team. A very hard guy to score against and offensively, probably didn’t get enough credit for setting great screens and being real active.

Boston indeed claimed the 2008 title that June, in six games over the Los Angeles Lakers. As the Celtics contended for the championship over the next three years, Perkins emerged from Garnett’s tutelage as the consummate professional.

PIERCE: He’ll sacrifice anything for his teammates. He’ll give you the last chair at breakfast, he’ll make sure the younger guys are alright. To earn respect, you have to give respect, and that’s what Perkins is.

GARNETT: If you know anything about his upbringing, he had a pretty tough upbringing, lost his moms. He became a breadwinner in the house very early, learned a lot of different things from different people.

PERKINS: Your upbringing plays a major part in how you act as a person. I’m just a guy where, if I’m with you, I’m all the way with you. They’re ain’t no half and half. If I’m with you, I’ma ride with you til the end.

GREEN: Sometimes Perk was the incredible Hulk, sometimes he was the teddy bear. Perk bought me so much stuff, man. My rookie year he took me shopping. We went to L.A. and there was a guy named Faruk. He used to always have jeans and stuff. Perk bought me, like, four or five outfits.

MARQUIS DANIELS, CELTICS GUARD (2009-12): There were other guys that didn’t have their car in town yet and he’s like, “Here you can borrow my car. You can come to my house and eat.” Or he’d take them out to eat.

BILL WALKER, CELTICS FORWARD (2008-10): He would always call me when we were on the road to hang out with him. We'd go for food and he would just tell me stories about how to prepare and how to work. He always was encouraging and always willing to help me break down things on film to get better.

BRIAN SCALABRINE, CELTICS FORWARD (2006-10): He still remembers my kids' names and I haven’t played with Perk in over six years and, at the time, my kids were 2 and just a newborn.

After falling short in 2009, the Celtics returned to the Finals in 2010. Boston carried a 3-2 lead back to Los Angeles for Games 6 and 7 against the Lakers. Just under seven minutes into Game 6, Perkins crashed to the floor after battling for a rebound.

TONY ALLEN, CELTICS GUARD (2004-10): [Perk] was one of the best centers in the league before his injury.

ZARREN: The moment it happened on the court, his knee didn’t move in a way that was awful. You see some nasty knee injuries, that wasn’t one, in terms of how it looked live or watching replays.

ALLEN: I was scared for him, for his health and safety. And then I was scared for our ability to win an NBA championship after that because I thought, “How could we win it without him?”

AINGE: It was tough to see him go down.

ZARREN: He came back to the locker room and by the time we got down there it was pretty clear it was a significant knee injury. Everyone was just crying in the locker room.

RIVERS: For me, it more was emotional that Perk wouldn’t have the chance to play in that Game 7.

ZARREN: We had played pretty well with Rasheed [Wallace] playing that year.

RAY ALLEN: We just had to try and steal one more game.

RIVERS: It actually showed the value of Perk quite a bit. It took away our enforcer. Kevin had to spend half the game trying to be that and play and I thought that took a lot out of him.

DANIELS: I think he made a huge difference between us having a ring that year and not getting one.

PERKINS: Defense wasn’t the problem, it was who wanted it the most. And I actually think they went and took it from us.

ZARREN: There’s a certain swagger about Perk that he brought to that team. Who knows how the next game would have gone if Perk had played? The losing still hurts so bad. None of us, I’m sure Perk included, will ever get over that game.

Testing proved Perkins tore his right ACL, forcing him to rehab for the majority of the following season. After Perkins played just 12 games for the Celtics in 2011, Boston re-evaluated the future of their frontcourt and set its sights on Oklahoma City swingman Jeff Green, ultimately dealing Perkins for him at the trade deadline.

PERKINS: I cried.

AINGE: It was very difficult. I loved him. We sort of raised him. We just knew that he was going to be very expensive. He became so expensive to Oklahoma City that they had to move [James] Harden.

ZARREN: There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when we agreed to that trade.

RIVERS: I would say in the years that I’ve coached, it was the hardest trade for me. It was the hardest reaction that I’ve ever seen in a locker room as a coach. There were literally tears in the locker room. It was almost like a death.

ALLEN: I was hurting for him, because I knew where his heart was. I knew he had only played for one team his whole career. He wanted what everybody else wanted. He wanted to be compensated, he wanted to make enough money so he could take care of his family.

DANIELS: It’s like, “Man, we lost a key component to our team. He’s like a brother.”

RIVERS: That starting lineup, [when healthy] has never lost a playoff series.

GARNETT: I wish Danny Ainge would have paid attention to that.

Thunder Buddies

Perkins inked a four-year, $36 million contract extension with the Thunder that March. With OKC fresh off its first playoff appearance in 2010, Perkins’s arrival perfectly preceded a deep playoff run. The Thunder reached the conference finals in 2011 and the Finals in 2012. OKC never missed the postseason during Perkins’s tenure.

BOUTTE: He was hurt when he first went to Oklahoma, but him being such a good teammate, he was the perfect person for the organization at the time.

PERKINS: I watched how [Garnett] worked, I watched how he operated, I watched his leadership skills and I just took it all in and brought it to my next stop.

PIERCE: That’s the reason you saw Perkins wore No. 5 [Garnett’s number in Boston] when he went to Oklahoma City.

NICK COLLISON, THUNDER FORWARD: We were starting to play in playoff series. A lot of us hadn’t had much experience there, so I think he was great for us at that time. He really deserves a lot of credit for the success we’ve had over the years.

PERKINS: Our first shootaround, I came in and [Durant and Westbrook] was laughing and joking and I was like, “Ay man, listen up. Lock in.” I remember them kind of barking back and got into an argument. But we ain’t have no problems ever since.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, THUNDER GUARD: He didn’t hold nothing back. If he saw something that would help our team, he’d let you know.

RONNIE BREWER, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): The mentality our Thunder team had, you’re not going to push us around, he did that.

ANTHONY MORROW, THUNDER GUARD (2014-17): He knew how to connect with different guys in just a couple words to light a fire under him and get him going. It was definitely unique to see that.

ANDRE ROBERSON, THUNDER GUARD: His house was always open.

WESTBROOK: People would come by, just chill, enjoy each other’s company, maybe watch a game or some boxing, whatever was on TV that day.

REGGIE JACKSON, THUNDER GUARD (2011-15): I had times where Perk showed up to my house just because he could tell I had a bad week. It was perfect timing, it was the right words, it just kept me chugging along.

COLLISON: The big thing with him is that he always had a good feel on where collectively the morale was.

CARON BUTLER, THUNDER FORWARD (2014): Late night, he’d send texts like after a tough loss. He couldn’t sleep. He’d text you at two, three in the morning. “How you doing? Damn, man. What you see out there?”

THABO SEFOLOSHA, THUNDER FORWARD (2008-14): It was always about how we can improve, things we can do better, things that we did well that night, keeping it up.

WESTBROOK: If I had a bad game, he’d call. If I had a good game, he’d call. I know if I needed to call somebody at 3, 4 in the morning, he’s always gonna be up to answer the phone regardless of what’s going on. That’s what makes him special. It’s not just one time, it’s not once a week, it’s all the time.

GARNETT: I taught him how to communicate.

PERKINS: Everybody who has my phone, they can call me anytime. If I’m up, I’ll answer it. There was a time, KD was struggling mentally and he just called me. Russell went down. Even before he started getting into the chatter about the MVP conversation. I was telling him, ‘Hey man, you’re the MVP. You can do this.”

SERGE IBAKA, THUNDER FORWARD (2009-16): On the bench, off the bench, he’s going to talk. He loves to talk, use his voice, to get your confidence up when your confidence is down.

STEVEN ADAMS, THUNDER CENTER: He did give me some advice, but it seems a bit brutish: “Go out and make sure you hit this guy.”

JACKSON: Everybody always sees the persona of him, just this mean guy on the court, but off of the court he’s this big teddy bear.

DEANDRE LIGGINS, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): When I got to OKC, I went to the store for him. He gave me this big lump sum for no reason. Like, “Go to Starbucks for me and get some coffee,” and he gave me like $1,000 and told me to keep the change.

BUTLER: He was always honest in film. [In the 2014 playoffs, down 2-1 to Memphis], we ended up winning that and going to the Western Conference finals just because of the conversation that he led in [a] film session.

PERKINS: I told KD he was the best player in the league and he needed to act like it.

SEFOLOSHA: It was real intense. Our backs were against the wall and he knew what we needed to do. The message got through to everybody.

WESTBROOK: He wanted to have a man-to-man type of speech, and I think that was something we needed as a group and our entire defense to buckle down.

ADAMS: That’s why people like him and that’s why a lot of teams want him around. Nobody gets away with anything, he makes sure you’re honest and do whatever your job is.

The Last Chapter

As the 2014-15 season approached its midway point, Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti schemed to surround Durant and Westbrook with younger, more malleable frontcourt talent. The Thunder bid Perkins farewell in exchange for Utah forward Enes Kanter in a three-team trade. The Jazz ultimately waived Perkins, opening the door for another shot at a title.

THIBODEAU, CHICAGO BULLS HEAD COACH (2010-2015): I talked to him about coming to Chicago.

RIVERS: There is no better guy to have on your team to help facilitate roles to the other teammates than Perk.

PERKINS: I felt like Cleveland was the best in the East and they would have the easiest walk to the Finals. That’s what made me choose. It was hard turning down Doc and Thibs, but I had to.

DAVID BLATT, CAVALIERS HEAD COACH (2014-16): Getting Perk at the time frame that we did was great for us. We had a good locker room, but Perk is another strong voice and experienced leader.

POSEY, CAVALIERS ASSISTANT COACH: A couple times, he got the guys together from afar, like, “Yo, this some bullshit. We out there bullshitting around, we fucking around. We got a good opportunity. Pick this shit up.” He looked at people in the face. Pointing ‘em out. “Come on! What you gonna do? What we gonna do?” Everybody, they got the point, they got the message.

PERKINS: They was looking at me like, “What the fuck?” I was just letting them know I was all in.

J.R. SMITH, CAVALIERS GUARD: Right around 78, 79 games, something like that, he was telling everybody, “This is a tough ride, we about to buckle down.”

IMAN SHUMPERT, CAVALIERS GUARD: Perk is unbelievable with keeping his mind set on what the bigger picture is.

JAMES JONES, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-17): He’s really all about business when it’s time for business. He doesn’t hold back. If it’s LeBron, if it’s a rookie, if it’s a coach, if it’s the GM, he’ll point ‘em out if it’s not the right thing. He just holds everyone accountable regardless of position or status.

PERKINS: Bron, he took a backseat and let me be a leader. He was letting me talk a lot—pregame speeches—and they gave me a voice right off the bat.

MIKE MILLER, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-15): He is to me, one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had and I only had him for half a year.

Perkins departed Cleveland after its championship loss to Golden State for the New Orleans Pelicans and a chance to mentor Anthony Davis in 2015-16.

DANTE CUNNINGHAM, PELICANS FORWARD: He would’ve been a [veteran] that I wanted to have coming in. Just his knowledge of the game, his knowledge off the court, just how personable he is, just making sure that you’re doing well not only as a player but as a person.

ALVIN GENTRY, PELICANS HEAD COACH: The great thing about it was that Anthony has a lot of respect for him. It wasn’t unlike Perk to challenge him in a lot of situations and have Anthony respond to it. It was a good relationship. They did everything together. They spent a lot of time talking, even during the games, Perk was pulling him to the side and saying certain things to him.

PERKINS: I got a chance to play with a lot of future Hall of Famers and I don’t take that for granted one day.

At 32 years old, Perkins texted Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue to rejoin Cleveland for training camp after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign. He'd been training three times a day back in Houston. The Cavs didn’t hesitate welcoming him back into their locker room. Perkins seems like a natural fit on a team full of veterans, focused solely on a championship. Although a roster crunch could ultimately end his career, many expect Perkins to have a long tenure coaching in the NBA. Regardless of his future, he’s left a lasting imprint on the league.

PERKINS: I’d love to coach when I finish playing one day. I know a lot of GMs that value my knowledge of the game. I would have a lot of options. I probably would call up Oklahoma City.

PIERCE: Perk is probably one of the last of the old school vets that learned from the older guys in the way of giving back to the young guys. That’s just the type of person he is. You see that big scowl on his face, he look all mean on the court, but off the court, all his teammates love him.

GARNETT: I love him. That’s my real life brother, man. We have a super strong connection. That bond will never be broken and I’d do anything for ‘em.

WESTBROOK: He’s one of the most unselfish guys I know, just willing to sacrifice to help other people out.

RIVERS: He’s a sunshine guy. There’s guys who bring sunshine. He’s one of those guys.

Oral History: Kendrick Perkins, the NBA's Best Teammate

Kevin Durant shuffled behind the glass podium, peering across two rows of his 2013-14 Oklahoma City Thunder teammates. He thanks Hasheem Thabeet for his comic relief. He praises Derek Fisher for his infectious professionalism. “Perk,” Durant continues, eying starting center Kendrick Perkins. “I hated you before you got here. But the moment you got here, man, you just changed my whole perception of you. Just one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, man. I thank you so much.”

Durant’s voice begins to waver now. Emotion bubbles in his throat. “The late night calls. You texting me, telling me I’m the MVP.” Durant abruptly stops. He bows his head as the crowd erupts in applause. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player even has to remove his glasses to wipe away the welling tears.

It was a small sequence in an unforgettably heartfelt, 20-plus minute acceptance speech from Durant, yet a highly regular sentiment owned by countless players across the NBA. Perkins, a lumbering defensive presence with pedestrian career averages of 5.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, is widely considered the greatest teammate in modern NBA history. “He’s the type of guy that’s willing to do whatever it takes to help your teammates,” Russell Westbrook told The Crossover. “The thing that we all love about Perk,” adds Wizards coach Scott Brooks, “is that he cares. He has a big heart and he’s only about winning.”

Perkins established a group text message with Durant and Westbrook upon arriving in Oklahoma City. “I didn’t know KD and Russ from a can of paint,” he says. “I just wanted to get it like how we had it in Boston.” They pinged the thread day and night, dishing football smack and NBA rumors. “We’re in it a lot,” Westbrook said back in April 2016, even after Perkins left the Thunder. “That’s the type of relationship we have [with him].” The group message has been silent following Durant’s departure to Oakland last summer. Perkins thinks it will resume activity in the future. “At least they’re talking to each other again,” he said. “I know they had talked right after they announced Russ won MVP. They texted. I think they broke the ice.”

Perkins’s influence followed Durant to Golden State. LeBron James and the Cavaliers still hear his voice emanating in Cleveland’s training camp. He has deep connections with Doc Rivers and the Clippers, Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves, Scott Brooks and the Wizards, and Alvin Gentry, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo in New Orleans. His leadership style will empower Westbrook to coexist with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. His former teammate Kyrie Irving will look to rule his former home in Boston. So how exactly did a shy child from Beaumont, Texas, establish an enduring legacy amongst the NBA’s elite?

(The following interviews have been lightly edited for clarity).

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'He Was a Quiet Kid'

The town of Beaumont sits 90 minutes east of Houston. Hal Pastner and his son, current Georgia Tech head coach, Josh, launched Perkins’s career in their legendary Houston Hoops AAU program, responsible for grooming the likes of Emeka Okafor, Rashard Lewis, Stephen Jackson, T.J. Ford and many others.

HAL PASTNER: We just took to Kendrick. He was a quiet kid, really quiet. Kendrick would stay at our house in the summers. He was afraid to go upstairs because it was dark.

JOSH PASTNER: [Kendrick] always had long arms and was kinda gangly. It didn’t matter if you were up 20, down 20, he had that death stare toward you. He was like one of those secret service agents.

HAL PASTNER: Right around around the same time we found Kendrick, Ndudi Ebi started with us, and over the summer they both shot up nearly a foot. They were about about 6’7” and lanky. I remember we played LeBron James in eighth grade and we beat ‘em, and LeBron came up to us after the game and said, “Man, we couldn’t stop the twin towers.”

After starring at Lamar University, Kenneth Perkins left his wife and 18-month-old son, Kendrick, to play professionally in New Zealand. When Kendrick was 5 years old, his mother was shot dead while working at a beauty salon. Essentially orphaned, Perkins’s maternal grandparents claimed his custody. His basketball family also reared him.

HAL PASTNER: Coach Boutte really started looking after him later on.

ANDRE BOUTTE, OZEN HIGH SCHOOL HEAD COACH: He needed that father figure at the time. We went fishing every now and then together at Sabine Lake, just talked day-to-day like you would with a son. Any time a kid is that age and went through some of the things he did, the most important thing is try to put a smile on their face.

From 1999 to 2003, Perkins led Ozen High to four district championships and one state title. Behind his 27.5 points, 16.4 rebounds and 7.8 blocked shots per game as a senior, Ozen compiled a 33-1 record, only losing in the state 4A championship game.

MIKE KUNSTADT, TEXAS HOOPS MAGAZINE: He just used his body so well to get around the basket. And once he was there, he just overpowered you. He didn’t have explosiveness as far as blocking shots, but long arms and good timing and was a great rim protector.

BOUTTE: [Then-Celtics GM] Chris Wallace came to a game. [Spurs GM] R.C. Buford was at one of our games. He signed with Memphis early. He was gonna go play for [John] Calipari, because I wanted him to play for an NBA–type coach that would work him real hard. It wasn’t until he actually declared [for the NBA draft] that you had a little contact to see where he was gonna be slotted. We were pretty confident he would go first round.

Early Year Enforcer

The Celtics acquired Kendrick Perkins, the No. 27 pick in the 2003 NBA draft, from the Grizzlies in a draft-night trade, fully prepared for the colossal 18-year-old to essentially redshirt his rookie season.

BOUTTE: It was like the world being lifted off of his shoulders. But any time you have a high school kid, you’re concerned about whether or not they’re gonna be able to take the day-to-day rigors of NBA life.

DANNY AINGE, CELTICS GM: When he came in for his draft workout, he was well over 300 pounds, over 22% body fat, a 22-inch vertical only. He was overweight. He needed a lot of work on his body.

JAMIE YOUNG, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH: The first thing Perk really started doing was working his body into shape.

PERKINS: It was hard. I didn’t get a chance to play much. They basically sat me out a whole year just to work on my body. It was a different experience for sure, but it was something I needed to do to get my career going.

AINGE: He sort of went from being a fat kid to being cut. My office looks right down into the weight room, and I remember Kendrick—I could see him, he didn’t see me—I could see him looking at himself in the mirror with his shirt off. It was funny, it was cute, but it was symbolic of just how hard he had worked and how gratifying it was for him to see the results.

MIKE JAMES, CELTICS GUARD (2003-04): He was quiet because he was listening. He was learning, soaking everything in. He was paying his dues, paying his respects, being a rookie.

PAUL PIERCE, CELTICS FORWARD (1998-2013): He was my little young rookie. A lot of times, veterans rub off on them.

WALTER MCCARTY, CELTICS FORWARD (1997-05): Him and Brandon Hunter, me being one of the veterans, I was switching out TVs in my house, I had about four or five of the old TVs and I had the rookies come over: Take the new one’s up, bring the old ones down, and had ‘em working for me out there at the house. It was pretty funny to see these young kids running in an out, big strong young guys and just putting them to work.

A young Perkins worked his hardest during practice the following season. When the Celtics drafted the 6’10" Al Jefferson at No. 15 in the 2004 NBA draft, Boston not only added a promising frontcourt talent, but a sparring partner for Big Perk.

MCCARTY: They used to go at it. Perk went at it with everybody.

DOC RIVERS, CELTICS HEAD COACH (2004-13): They played tons of 1-on-1. There were many times where you actually contemplated stopping it because you’re like, “One of these guys is gonna get hurt.” That’s how physical it was.

CLIFFORD RAY, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2005-10): They really had some good battles. I thought Al made Perk better, because he was such a prolific scorer. We used to call him Buckets. He used to say, ‘Yea, coach. I just get buckets!’ Al Jefferson has tremendous ability. He had a God given gift. Perk was the opposite. He was a true center. When I look at Perk, he was always our best defender. If someone was going to come down the middle, he would be there. He knew when to go for the shot block and when to take the charge.

RIVERS: Perk and Al were just trying to find themselves. Al was the offensive guy. I think that actually helped Perk a lot. It helped him define a role early in his career.

YOUNG: His role was more of an enforcer.

The Celtics were still rebuilding around Pierce during the 2006-07 season, but began to play with the edge of a playoff contender. When Boston visited the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 11 that winter, Perkins displayed his burgeoning reputation as a defensive anchor.

TOM THIBODEAU, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2007-10): Perk really starred in his role and his role really was to do a lot of the dirty work.

JAMES: He was always throwing his lip up and frowning. He was angry.

GERALD GREEN, CELTICS GUARD (2005-07): He was the enforcer, so sometimes he might have to make a hard foul.

YOUNG: I remember playing Minnesota and I remember Perk talking a lot of trash to [Kevin Garnett].

JAMES: Kendrick’s not gonna back down from no one. He’s not a punk.

RIVERS: The thing I liked about Perk was he didn’t care that you were KG or Kobe or Michael or whoever it was. He was convinced that you couldn’t score on him. He always made the comment, “You may be great, but not tonight.” I used to love it. I thought it really irritated star players.

KEVIN GARNETT, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES FORWARD (1995-2007): We had obviously clashed and had numerous occasions where we banged a little bit. When you’re older and the big dog, you got little pups and stuff wanting to come at you night in and night out. It always got me going. It always motivated me.

PIERCE: They almost got into a fight.

YOUNG: I don’t remember exactly what happened postgame, but there was a little—there wasn't any physical altercation—but there was some verbal altercation between the two.

Big Three Era

Perkins’s barking still rang in Garnett’s ears when Minnesota and Boston discussed a blockbuster trade on draft night that June. The Celtics remained firm: Boston would only exchange Jefferson and a horde of other assets if Garnett agreed to a contract extension. Talks regained steam in July, with Boston having already acquired sharpshooting, All-Star guard Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics. This time, before ultimately signing, Garnett phoned Pierce.

PIERCE: Kevin was like, “What’s up with Perk? Is he gonna want to fight me when I come to the team?”

GARNETT, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-13): I asked Paul, not really concerned but I just wanted to come into it, handle whatever we needed to handle.

PIERCE: I was like, “Man, you don’t even know how much he look up to you.” Kevin couldn’t believe it.

GARNETT: We sat and we talked. The first day I got there, we were like best friends. Once we got on the same page, man, we were off and running. I’m not gonna take anybody that doesn’t want to work. I don’t like people who complained. I don’t like people who don’t have a work ethic. I don’t do quitters. I wanted to see how he worked on his own. Perk was just similar to me. We were grinders, kind of physical specimens.

PIERCE: It was like seeing a big brother look out for his little brother—take him out to the backyard, let’s go play catch—it looked like that.

RAY ALLEN, CELTICS (2007-12): When we got there, KG, it really gave him somebody that he can see and kind of look up to. When he got to see KG work, he had somebody that was always going to communicate with him, somebody that was always gonna have his back. He started emulating what KG was.

PIERCE: Kevin inspired a lot of the kids in the league that came out of high school.

AINGE: I think they had a mutual admiration for each other, because both of those guys were 100% team guys and both of those guys were hard-working, tough-minded. That’s why they hit it off so quick. It’s tough to win KG over. I don’t think it took Perk very long at all before he had KG’s respect.

RIVERS: I do remember the first practice. The trash talking. It was really the second unit vs. the first unit. It was distracting. It was literally 30 minutes into the first practice that we ever had and Eddie House and James Posey and that group decided that they weren’t going to take any crap from the first unit.

JAMES POSEY, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-08): It was intense, being that was the first start of our journey, having a chance and thinking we could win it all.

RIVERS: I had to blow the whistle two or three times and just tell ‘em, “Either you can play, or you can talk. The first group is able to do both. But the guys that can’t, shut up!”

ALLEN: We were a bunch of A-type personality guys.

GARNETT: We got into arguments, we got into fights, we wrestled. We were a team full of barbarians. We were like 300. It was us against the world, straight out. If you ask anybody from that team, we felt like we were straight up warriors and straight up Greek gods and goddesses and all this other shit.

MIKE ZARREN, CELTICS ASSISTANT GM: That group just worked great together. Everybody understood what their role was. Kevin preferred to play 4, rather than 5. He loved to have Perk around to take the brunt of the banging with other big buys. Perk was happy to do that as well.

GARNETT: We were responsible for talking, if not calling out defenses as far as strategies, coverages and stuff like that. Doc put that responsibility on us. We were both decent passers. Him and I, we gelled quicker on the court, as far as basketball, more than anybody else.

PERKINS: When [KG] first got [to Boston]: “Hey listen, me and you, we gonna anchor the defense, we’re gonna set screens and get Paul and Ray open, and when I hit you with the pass, make sure you be ready to finish.”

MIKE GORMAN, CSNNE CELTICS PLAY-BY-PLAY: I always thought that a lot of KG’s bravado was backed up by the fact that, if you looked immediately over his right-hand shoulder, Perk was standing there. I always thought Perk was kind of the man behind the myth there. He had a cop standing right behind him to take care of business if things didn’t work out.

THIBODEAU: He was obviously a big part of the championship team. A very hard guy to score against and offensively, probably didn’t get enough credit for setting great screens and being real active.

Boston indeed claimed the 2008 title that June, in six games over the Los Angeles Lakers. As the Celtics contended for the championship over the next three years, Perkins emerged from Garnett’s tutelage as the consummate professional.

PIERCE: He’ll sacrifice anything for his teammates. He’ll give you the last chair at breakfast, he’ll make sure the younger guys are alright. To earn respect, you have to give respect, and that’s what Perkins is.

GARNETT: If you know anything about his upbringing, he had a pretty tough upbringing, lost his moms. He became a breadwinner in the house very early, learned a lot of different things from different people.

PERKINS: Your upbringing plays a major part in how you act as a person. I’m just a guy where, if I’m with you, I’m all the way with you. They’re ain’t no half and half. If I’m with you, I’ma ride with you til the end.

GREEN: Sometimes Perk was the incredible Hulk, sometimes he was the teddy bear. Perk bought me so much stuff, man. My rookie year he took me shopping. We went to L.A. and there was a guy named Faruk. He used to always have jeans and stuff. Perk bought me, like, four or five outfits.

MARQUIS DANIELS, CELTICS GUARD (2009-12): There were other guys that didn’t have their car in town yet and he’s like, “Here you can borrow my car. You can come to my house and eat.” Or he’d take them out to eat.

BILL WALKER, CELTICS FORWARD (2008-10): He would always call me when we were on the road to hang out with him. We'd go for food and he would just tell me stories about how to prepare and how to work. He always was encouraging and always willing to help me break down things on film to get better.

BRIAN SCALABRINE, CELTICS FORWARD (2006-10): He still remembers my kids' names and I haven’t played with Perk in over six years and, at the time, my kids were 2 and just a newborn.

After falling short in 2009, the Celtics returned to the Finals in 2010. Boston carried a 3-2 lead back to Los Angeles for Games 6 and 7 against the Lakers. Just under seven minutes into Game 6, Perkins crashed to the floor after battling for a rebound.

TONY ALLEN, CELTICS GUARD (2004-10): [Perk] was one of the best centers in the league before his injury.

ZARREN: The moment it happened on the court, his knee didn’t move in a way that was awful. You see some nasty knee injuries, that wasn’t one, in terms of how it looked live or watching replays.

ALLEN: I was scared for him, for his health and safety. And then I was scared for our ability to win an NBA championship after that because I thought, “How could we win it without him?”

AINGE: It was tough to see him go down.

ZARREN: He came back to the locker room and by the time we got down there it was pretty clear it was a significant knee injury. Everyone was just crying in the locker room.

RIVERS: For me, it more was emotional that Perk wouldn’t have the chance to play in that Game 7.

ZARREN: We had played pretty well with Rasheed [Wallace] playing that year.

RAY ALLEN: We just had to try and steal one more game.

RIVERS: It actually showed the value of Perk quite a bit. It took away our enforcer. Kevin had to spend half the game trying to be that and play and I thought that took a lot out of him.

DANIELS: I think he made a huge difference between us having a ring that year and not getting one.

PERKINS: Defense wasn’t the problem, it was who wanted it the most. And I actually think they went and took it from us.

ZARREN: There’s a certain swagger about Perk that he brought to that team. Who knows how the next game would have gone if Perk had played? The losing still hurts so bad. None of us, I’m sure Perk included, will ever get over that game.

Testing proved Perkins tore his right ACL, forcing him to rehab for the majority of the following season. After Perkins played just 12 games for the Celtics in 2011, Boston re-evaluated the future of their frontcourt and set its sights on Oklahoma City swingman Jeff Green, ultimately dealing Perkins for him at the trade deadline.

PERKINS: I cried.

AINGE: It was very difficult. I loved him. We sort of raised him. We just knew that he was going to be very expensive. He became so expensive to Oklahoma City that they had to move [James] Harden.

ZARREN: There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when we agreed to that trade.

RIVERS: I would say in the years that I’ve coached, it was the hardest trade for me. It was the hardest reaction that I’ve ever seen in a locker room as a coach. There were literally tears in the locker room. It was almost like a death.

ALLEN: I was hurting for him, because I knew where his heart was. I knew he had only played for one team his whole career. He wanted what everybody else wanted. He wanted to be compensated, he wanted to make enough money so he could take care of his family.

DANIELS: It’s like, “Man, we lost a key component to our team. He’s like a brother.”

RIVERS: That starting lineup, [when healthy] has never lost a playoff series.

GARNETT: I wish Danny Ainge would have paid attention to that.

Thunder Buddies

Perkins inked a four-year, $36 million contract extension with the Thunder that March. With OKC fresh off its first playoff appearance in 2010, Perkins’s arrival perfectly preceded a deep playoff run. The Thunder reached the conference finals in 2011 and the Finals in 2012. OKC never missed the postseason during Perkins’s tenure.

BOUTTE: He was hurt when he first went to Oklahoma, but him being such a good teammate, he was the perfect person for the organization at the time.

PERKINS: I watched how [Garnett] worked, I watched how he operated, I watched his leadership skills and I just took it all in and brought it to my next stop.

PIERCE: That’s the reason you saw Perkins wore No. 5 [Garnett’s number in Boston] when he went to Oklahoma City.

NICK COLLISON, THUNDER FORWARD: We were starting to play in playoff series. A lot of us hadn’t had much experience there, so I think he was great for us at that time. He really deserves a lot of credit for the success we’ve had over the years.

PERKINS: Our first shootaround, I came in and [Durant and Westbrook] was laughing and joking and I was like, “Ay man, listen up. Lock in.” I remember them kind of barking back and got into an argument. But we ain’t have no problems ever since.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, THUNDER GUARD: He didn’t hold nothing back. If he saw something that would help our team, he’d let you know.

RONNIE BREWER, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): The mentality our Thunder team had, you’re not going to push us around, he did that.

ANTHONY MORROW, THUNDER GUARD (2014-17): He knew how to connect with different guys in just a couple words to light a fire under him and get him going. It was definitely unique to see that.

ANDRE ROBERSON, THUNDER GUARD: His house was always open.

WESTBROOK: People would come by, just chill, enjoy each other’s company, maybe watch a game or some boxing, whatever was on TV that day.

REGGIE JACKSON, THUNDER GUARD (2011-15): I had times where Perk showed up to my house just because he could tell I had a bad week. It was perfect timing, it was the right words, it just kept me chugging along.

COLLISON: The big thing with him is that he always had a good feel on where collectively the morale was.

CARON BUTLER, THUNDER FORWARD (2014): Late night, he’d send texts like after a tough loss. He couldn’t sleep. He’d text you at two, three in the morning. “How you doing? Damn, man. What you see out there?”

THABO SEFOLOSHA, THUNDER FORWARD (2008-14): It was always about how we can improve, things we can do better, things that we did well that night, keeping it up.

WESTBROOK: If I had a bad game, he’d call. If I had a good game, he’d call. I know if I needed to call somebody at 3, 4 in the morning, he’s always gonna be up to answer the phone regardless of what’s going on. That’s what makes him special. It’s not just one time, it’s not once a week, it’s all the time.

GARNETT: I taught him how to communicate.

PERKINS: Everybody who has my phone, they can call me anytime. If I’m up, I’ll answer it. There was a time, KD was struggling mentally and he just called me. Russell went down. Even before he started getting into the chatter about the MVP conversation. I was telling him, ‘Hey man, you’re the MVP. You can do this.”

SERGE IBAKA, THUNDER FORWARD (2009-16): On the bench, off the bench, he’s going to talk. He loves to talk, use his voice, to get your confidence up when your confidence is down.

STEVEN ADAMS, THUNDER CENTER: He did give me some advice, but it seems a bit brutish: “Go out and make sure you hit this guy.”

JACKSON: Everybody always sees the persona of him, just this mean guy on the court, but off of the court he’s this big teddy bear.

DEANDRE LIGGINS, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): When I got to OKC, I went to the store for him. He gave me this big lump sum for no reason. Like, “Go to Starbucks for me and get some coffee,” and he gave me like $1,000 and told me to keep the change.

BUTLER: He was always honest in film. [In the 2014 playoffs, down 2-1 to Memphis], we ended up winning that and going to the Western Conference finals just because of the conversation that he led in [a] film session.

PERKINS: I told KD he was the best player in the league and he needed to act like it.

SEFOLOSHA: It was real intense. Our backs were against the wall and he knew what we needed to do. The message got through to everybody.

WESTBROOK: He wanted to have a man-to-man type of speech, and I think that was something we needed as a group and our entire defense to buckle down.

ADAMS: That’s why people like him and that’s why a lot of teams want him around. Nobody gets away with anything, he makes sure you’re honest and do whatever your job is.

The Last Chapter

As the 2014-15 season approached its midway point, Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti schemed to surround Durant and Westbrook with younger, more malleable frontcourt talent. The Thunder bid Perkins farewell in exchange for Utah forward Enes Kanter in a three-team trade. The Jazz ultimately waived Perkins, opening the door for another shot at a title.

THIBODEAU, CHICAGO BULLS HEAD COACH (2010-2015): I talked to him about coming to Chicago.

RIVERS: There is no better guy to have on your team to help facilitate roles to the other teammates than Perk.

PERKINS: I felt like Cleveland was the best in the East and they would have the easiest walk to the Finals. That’s what made me choose. It was hard turning down Doc and Thibs, but I had to.

DAVID BLATT, CAVALIERS HEAD COACH (2014-16): Getting Perk at the time frame that we did was great for us. We had a good locker room, but Perk is another strong voice and experienced leader.

POSEY, CAVALIERS ASSISTANT COACH: A couple times, he got the guys together from afar, like, “Yo, this some bullshit. We out there bullshitting around, we fucking around. We got a good opportunity. Pick this shit up.” He looked at people in the face. Pointing ‘em out. “Come on! What you gonna do? What we gonna do?” Everybody, they got the point, they got the message.

PERKINS: They was looking at me like, “What the fuck?” I was just letting them know I was all in.

J.R. SMITH, CAVALIERS GUARD: Right around 78, 79 games, something like that, he was telling everybody, “This is a tough ride, we about to buckle down.”

IMAN SHUMPERT, CAVALIERS GUARD: Perk is unbelievable with keeping his mind set on what the bigger picture is.

JAMES JONES, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-17): He’s really all about business when it’s time for business. He doesn’t hold back. If it’s LeBron, if it’s a rookie, if it’s a coach, if it’s the GM, he’ll point ‘em out if it’s not the right thing. He just holds everyone accountable regardless of position or status.

PERKINS: Bron, he took a backseat and let me be a leader. He was letting me talk a lot—pregame speeches—and they gave me a voice right off the bat.

MIKE MILLER, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-15): He is to me, one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had and I only had him for half a year.

Perkins departed Cleveland after its championship loss to Golden State for the New Orleans Pelicans and a chance to mentor Anthony Davis in 2015-16.

DANTE CUNNINGHAM, PELICANS FORWARD: He would’ve been a [veteran] that I wanted to have coming in. Just his knowledge of the game, his knowledge off the court, just how personable he is, just making sure that you’re doing well not only as a player but as a person.

ALVIN GENTRY, PELICANS HEAD COACH: The great thing about it was that Anthony has a lot of respect for him. It wasn’t unlike Perk to challenge him in a lot of situations and have Anthony respond to it. It was a good relationship. They did everything together. They spent a lot of time talking, even during the games, Perk was pulling him to the side and saying certain things to him.

PERKINS: I got a chance to play with a lot of future Hall of Famers and I don’t take that for granted one day.

At 32 years old, Perkins texted Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue to rejoin Cleveland for training camp after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign. He'd been training three times a day back in Houston. The Cavs didn’t hesitate welcoming him back into their locker room. Perkins seems like a natural fit on a team full of veterans, focused solely on a championship. Although a roster crunch could ultimately end his career, many expect Perkins to have a long tenure coaching in the NBA. Regardless of his future, he’s left a lasting imprint on the league.

PERKINS: I’d love to coach when I finish playing one day. I know a lot of GMs that value my knowledge of the game. I would have a lot of options. I probably would call up Oklahoma City.

PIERCE: Perk is probably one of the last of the old school vets that learned from the older guys in the way of giving back to the young guys. That’s just the type of person he is. You see that big scowl on his face, he look all mean on the court, but off the court, all his teammates love him.

GARNETT: I love him. That’s my real life brother, man. We have a super strong connection. That bond will never be broken and I’d do anything for ‘em.

WESTBROOK: He’s one of the most unselfish guys I know, just willing to sacrifice to help other people out.

RIVERS: He’s a sunshine guy. There’s guys who bring sunshine. He’s one of those guys.

Oral History: Kendrick Perkins, the NBA's Best Teammate

Kevin Durant shuffled behind the glass podium, peering across two rows of his 2013-14 Oklahoma City Thunder teammates. He thanks Hasheem Thabeet for his comic relief. He praises Derek Fisher for his infectious professionalism. “Perk,” Durant continues, eying starting center Kendrick Perkins. “I hated you before you got here. But the moment you got here, man, you just changed my whole perception of you. Just one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, man. I thank you so much.”

Durant’s voice begins to waver now. Emotion bubbles in his throat. “The late night calls. You texting me, telling me I’m the MVP.” Durant abruptly stops. He bows his head as the crowd erupts in applause. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player even has to remove his glasses to wipe away the welling tears.

It was a small sequence in an unforgettably heartfelt, 20-plus minute acceptance speech from Durant, yet a highly regular sentiment owned by countless players across the NBA. Perkins, a lumbering defensive presence with pedestrian career averages of 5.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, is widely considered the greatest teammate in modern NBA history. “He’s the type of guy that’s willing to do whatever it takes to help your teammates,” Russell Westbrook told The Crossover. “The thing that we all love about Perk,” adds Wizards coach Scott Brooks, “is that he cares. He has a big heart and he’s only about winning.”

Perkins established a group text message with Durant and Westbrook upon arriving in Oklahoma City. “I didn’t know KD and Russ from a can of paint,” he says. “I just wanted to get it like how we had it in Boston.” They pinged the thread day and night, dishing football smack and NBA rumors. “We’re in it a lot,” Westbrook said back in April 2016, even after Perkins left the Thunder. “That’s the type of relationship we have [with him].” The group message has been silent following Durant’s departure to Oakland last summer. Perkins thinks it will resume activity in the future. “At least they’re talking to each other again,” he said. “I know they had talked right after they announced Russ won MVP. They texted. I think they broke the ice.”

Perkins’s influence followed Durant to Golden State. LeBron James and the Cavaliers still hear his voice emanating in Cleveland’s training camp. He has deep connections with Doc Rivers and the Clippers, Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves, Scott Brooks and the Wizards, and Alvin Gentry, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo in New Orleans. His leadership style will empower Westbrook to coexist with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. His former teammate Kyrie Irving will look to rule his former home in Boston. So how exactly did a shy child from Beaumont, Texas, establish an enduring legacy amongst the NBA’s elite?

(The following interviews have been lightly edited for clarity).

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'He Was a Quiet Kid'

The town of Beaumont sits 90 minutes east of Houston. Hal Pastner and his son, current Georgia Tech head coach, Josh, launched Perkins’s career in their legendary Houston Hoops AAU program, responsible for grooming the likes of Emeka Okafor, Rashard Lewis, Stephen Jackson, T.J. Ford and many others.

HAL PASTNER: We just took to Kendrick. He was a quiet kid, really quiet. Kendrick would stay at our house in the summers. He was afraid to go upstairs because it was dark.

JOSH PASTNER: [Kendrick] always had long arms and was kinda gangly. It didn’t matter if you were up 20, down 20, he had that death stare toward you. He was like one of those secret service agents.

HAL PASTNER: Right around around the same time we found Kendrick, Ndudi Ebi started with us, and over the summer they both shot up nearly a foot. They were about about 6’7” and lanky. I remember we played LeBron James in eighth grade and we beat ‘em, and LeBron came up to us after the game and said, “Man, we couldn’t stop the twin towers.”

After starring at Lamar University, Kenneth Perkins left his wife and 18-month-old son, Kendrick, to play professionally in New Zealand. When Kendrick was 5 years old, his mother was shot dead while working at a beauty salon. Essentially orphaned, Perkins’s maternal grandparents claimed his custody. His basketball family also reared him.

HAL PASTNER: Coach Boutte really started looking after him later on.

ANDRE BOUTTE, OZEN HIGH SCHOOL HEAD COACH: He needed that father figure at the time. We went fishing every now and then together at Sabine Lake, just talked day-to-day like you would with a son. Any time a kid is that age and went through some of the things he did, the most important thing is try to put a smile on their face.

From 1999 to 2003, Perkins led Ozen High to four district championships and one state title. Behind his 27.5 points, 16.4 rebounds and 7.8 blocked shots per game as a senior, Ozen compiled a 33-1 record, only losing in the state 4A championship game.

MIKE KUNSTADT, TEXAS HOOPS MAGAZINE: He just used his body so well to get around the basket. And once he was there, he just overpowered you. He didn’t have explosiveness as far as blocking shots, but long arms and good timing and was a great rim protector.

BOUTTE: [Then-Celtics GM] Chris Wallace came to a game. [Spurs GM] R.C. Buford was at one of our games. He signed with Memphis early. He was gonna go play for [John] Calipari, because I wanted him to play for an NBA–type coach that would work him real hard. It wasn’t until he actually declared [for the NBA draft] that you had a little contact to see where he was gonna be slotted. We were pretty confident he would go first round.

Early Year Enforcer

The Celtics acquired Kendrick Perkins, the No. 27 pick in the 2003 NBA draft, from the Grizzlies in a draft-night trade, fully prepared for the colossal 18-year-old to essentially redshirt his rookie season.

BOUTTE: It was like the world being lifted off of his shoulders. But any time you have a high school kid, you’re concerned about whether or not they’re gonna be able to take the day-to-day rigors of NBA life.

DANNY AINGE, CELTICS GM: When he came in for his draft workout, he was well over 300 pounds, over 22% body fat, a 22-inch vertical only. He was overweight. He needed a lot of work on his body.

JAMIE YOUNG, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH: The first thing Perk really started doing was working his body into shape.

PERKINS: It was hard. I didn’t get a chance to play much. They basically sat me out a whole year just to work on my body. It was a different experience for sure, but it was something I needed to do to get my career going.

AINGE: He sort of went from being a fat kid to being cut. My office looks right down into the weight room, and I remember Kendrick—I could see him, he didn’t see me—I could see him looking at himself in the mirror with his shirt off. It was funny, it was cute, but it was symbolic of just how hard he had worked and how gratifying it was for him to see the results.

MIKE JAMES, CELTICS GUARD (2003-04): He was quiet because he was listening. He was learning, soaking everything in. He was paying his dues, paying his respects, being a rookie.

PAUL PIERCE, CELTICS FORWARD (1998-2013): He was my little young rookie. A lot of times, veterans rub off on them.

WALTER MCCARTY, CELTICS FORWARD (1997-05): Him and Brandon Hunter, me being one of the veterans, I was switching out TVs in my house, I had about four or five of the old TVs and I had the rookies come over: Take the new one’s up, bring the old ones down, and had ‘em working for me out there at the house. It was pretty funny to see these young kids running in an out, big strong young guys and just putting them to work.

A young Perkins worked his hardest during practice the following season. When the Celtics drafted the 6’10" Al Jefferson at No. 15 in the 2004 NBA draft, Boston not only added a promising frontcourt talent, but a sparring partner for Big Perk.

MCCARTY: They used to go at it. Perk went at it with everybody.

DOC RIVERS, CELTICS HEAD COACH (2004-13): They played tons of 1-on-1. There were many times where you actually contemplated stopping it because you’re like, “One of these guys is gonna get hurt.” That’s how physical it was.

CLIFFORD RAY, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2005-10): They really had some good battles. I thought Al made Perk better, because he was such a prolific scorer. We used to call him Buckets. He used to say, ‘Yea, coach. I just get buckets!’ Al Jefferson has tremendous ability. He had a God given gift. Perk was the opposite. He was a true center. When I look at Perk, he was always our best defender. If someone was going to come down the middle, he would be there. He knew when to go for the shot block and when to take the charge.

RIVERS: Perk and Al were just trying to find themselves. Al was the offensive guy. I think that actually helped Perk a lot. It helped him define a role early in his career.

YOUNG: His role was more of an enforcer.

The Celtics were still rebuilding around Pierce during the 2006-07 season, but began to play with the edge of a playoff contender. When Boston visited the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 11 that winter, Perkins displayed his burgeoning reputation as a defensive anchor.

TOM THIBODEAU, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2007-10): Perk really starred in his role and his role really was to do a lot of the dirty work.

JAMES: He was always throwing his lip up and frowning. He was angry.

GERALD GREEN, CELTICS GUARD (2005-07): He was the enforcer, so sometimes he might have to make a hard foul.

YOUNG: I remember playing Minnesota and I remember Perk talking a lot of trash to [Kevin Garnett].

JAMES: Kendrick’s not gonna back down from no one. He’s not a punk.

RIVERS: The thing I liked about Perk was he didn’t care that you were KG or Kobe or Michael or whoever it was. He was convinced that you couldn’t score on him. He always made the comment, “You may be great, but not tonight.” I used to love it. I thought it really irritated star players.

KEVIN GARNETT, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES FORWARD (1995-2007): We had obviously clashed and had numerous occasions where we banged a little bit. When you’re older and the big dog, you got little pups and stuff wanting to come at you night in and night out. It always got me going. It always motivated me.

PIERCE: They almost got into a fight.

YOUNG: I don’t remember exactly what happened postgame, but there was a little—there wasn't any physical altercation—but there was some verbal altercation between the two.

Big Three Era

Perkins’s barking still rang in Garnett’s ears when Minnesota and Boston discussed a blockbuster trade on draft night that June. The Celtics remained firm: Boston would only exchange Jefferson and a horde of other assets if Garnett agreed to a contract extension. Talks regained steam in July, with Boston having already acquired sharpshooting, All-Star guard Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics. This time, before ultimately signing, Garnett phoned Pierce.

PIERCE: Kevin was like, “What’s up with Perk? Is he gonna want to fight me when I come to the team?”

GARNETT, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-13): I asked Paul, not really concerned but I just wanted to come into it, handle whatever we needed to handle.

PIERCE: I was like, “Man, you don’t even know how much he look up to you.” Kevin couldn’t believe it.

GARNETT: We sat and we talked. The first day I got there, we were like best friends. Once we got on the same page, man, we were off and running. I’m not gonna take anybody that doesn’t want to work. I don’t like people who complained. I don’t like people who don’t have a work ethic. I don’t do quitters. I wanted to see how he worked on his own. Perk was just similar to me. We were grinders, kind of physical specimens.

PIERCE: It was like seeing a big brother look out for his little brother—take him out to the backyard, let’s go play catch—it looked like that.

RAY ALLEN, CELTICS (2007-12): When we got there, KG, it really gave him somebody that he can see and kind of look up to. When he got to see KG work, he had somebody that was always going to communicate with him, somebody that was always gonna have his back. He started emulating what KG was.

PIERCE: Kevin inspired a lot of the kids in the league that came out of high school.

AINGE: I think they had a mutual admiration for each other, because both of those guys were 100% team guys and both of those guys were hard-working, tough-minded. That’s why they hit it off so quick. It’s tough to win KG over. I don’t think it took Perk very long at all before he had KG’s respect.

RIVERS: I do remember the first practice. The trash talking. It was really the second unit vs. the first unit. It was distracting. It was literally 30 minutes into the first practice that we ever had and Eddie House and James Posey and that group decided that they weren’t going to take any crap from the first unit.

JAMES POSEY, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-08): It was intense, being that was the first start of our journey, having a chance and thinking we could win it all.

RIVERS: I had to blow the whistle two or three times and just tell ‘em, “Either you can play, or you can talk. The first group is able to do both. But the guys that can’t, shut up!”

ALLEN: We were a bunch of A-type personality guys.

GARNETT: We got into arguments, we got into fights, we wrestled. We were a team full of barbarians. We were like 300. It was us against the world, straight out. If you ask anybody from that team, we felt like we were straight up warriors and straight up Greek gods and goddesses and all this other shit.

MIKE ZARREN, CELTICS ASSISTANT GM: That group just worked great together. Everybody understood what their role was. Kevin preferred to play 4, rather than 5. He loved to have Perk around to take the brunt of the banging with other big buys. Perk was happy to do that as well.

GARNETT: We were responsible for talking, if not calling out defenses as far as strategies, coverages and stuff like that. Doc put that responsibility on us. We were both decent passers. Him and I, we gelled quicker on the court, as far as basketball, more than anybody else.

PERKINS: When [KG] first got [to Boston]: “Hey listen, me and you, we gonna anchor the defense, we’re gonna set screens and get Paul and Ray open, and when I hit you with the pass, make sure you be ready to finish.”

MIKE GORMAN, CSNNE CELTICS PLAY-BY-PLAY: I always thought that a lot of KG’s bravado was backed up by the fact that, if you looked immediately over his right-hand shoulder, Perk was standing there. I always thought Perk was kind of the man behind the myth there. He had a cop standing right behind him to take care of business if things didn’t work out.

THIBODEAU: He was obviously a big part of the championship team. A very hard guy to score against and offensively, probably didn’t get enough credit for setting great screens and being real active.

Boston indeed claimed the 2008 title that June, in six games over the Los Angeles Lakers. As the Celtics contended for the championship over the next three years, Perkins emerged from Garnett’s tutelage as the consummate professional.

PIERCE: He’ll sacrifice anything for his teammates. He’ll give you the last chair at breakfast, he’ll make sure the younger guys are alright. To earn respect, you have to give respect, and that’s what Perkins is.

GARNETT: If you know anything about his upbringing, he had a pretty tough upbringing, lost his moms. He became a breadwinner in the house very early, learned a lot of different things from different people.

PERKINS: Your upbringing plays a major part in how you act as a person. I’m just a guy where, if I’m with you, I’m all the way with you. They’re ain’t no half and half. If I’m with you, I’ma ride with you til the end.

GREEN: Sometimes Perk was the incredible Hulk, sometimes he was the teddy bear. Perk bought me so much stuff, man. My rookie year he took me shopping. We went to L.A. and there was a guy named Faruk. He used to always have jeans and stuff. Perk bought me, like, four or five outfits.

MARQUIS DANIELS, CELTICS GUARD (2009-12): There were other guys that didn’t have their car in town yet and he’s like, “Here you can borrow my car. You can come to my house and eat.” Or he’d take them out to eat.

BILL WALKER, CELTICS FORWARD (2008-10): He would always call me when we were on the road to hang out with him. We'd go for food and he would just tell me stories about how to prepare and how to work. He always was encouraging and always willing to help me break down things on film to get better.

BRIAN SCALABRINE, CELTICS FORWARD (2006-10): He still remembers my kids' names and I haven’t played with Perk in over six years and, at the time, my kids were 2 and just a newborn.

After falling short in 2009, the Celtics returned to the Finals in 2010. Boston carried a 3-2 lead back to Los Angeles for Games 6 and 7 against the Lakers. Just under seven minutes into Game 6, Perkins crashed to the floor after battling for a rebound.

TONY ALLEN, CELTICS GUARD (2004-10): [Perk] was one of the best centers in the league before his injury.

ZARREN: The moment it happened on the court, his knee didn’t move in a way that was awful. You see some nasty knee injuries, that wasn’t one, in terms of how it looked live or watching replays.

ALLEN: I was scared for him, for his health and safety. And then I was scared for our ability to win an NBA championship after that because I thought, “How could we win it without him?”

AINGE: It was tough to see him go down.

ZARREN: He came back to the locker room and by the time we got down there it was pretty clear it was a significant knee injury. Everyone was just crying in the locker room.

RIVERS: For me, it more was emotional that Perk wouldn’t have the chance to play in that Game 7.

ZARREN: We had played pretty well with Rasheed [Wallace] playing that year.

RAY ALLEN: We just had to try and steal one more game.

RIVERS: It actually showed the value of Perk quite a bit. It took away our enforcer. Kevin had to spend half the game trying to be that and play and I thought that took a lot out of him.

DANIELS: I think he made a huge difference between us having a ring that year and not getting one.

PERKINS: Defense wasn’t the problem, it was who wanted it the most. And I actually think they went and took it from us.

ZARREN: There’s a certain swagger about Perk that he brought to that team. Who knows how the next game would have gone if Perk had played? The losing still hurts so bad. None of us, I’m sure Perk included, will ever get over that game.

Testing proved Perkins tore his right ACL, forcing him to rehab for the majority of the following season. After Perkins played just 12 games for the Celtics in 2011, Boston re-evaluated the future of their frontcourt and set its sights on Oklahoma City swingman Jeff Green, ultimately dealing Perkins for him at the trade deadline.

PERKINS: I cried.

AINGE: It was very difficult. I loved him. We sort of raised him. We just knew that he was going to be very expensive. He became so expensive to Oklahoma City that they had to move [James] Harden.

ZARREN: There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when we agreed to that trade.

RIVERS: I would say in the years that I’ve coached, it was the hardest trade for me. It was the hardest reaction that I’ve ever seen in a locker room as a coach. There were literally tears in the locker room. It was almost like a death.

ALLEN: I was hurting for him, because I knew where his heart was. I knew he had only played for one team his whole career. He wanted what everybody else wanted. He wanted to be compensated, he wanted to make enough money so he could take care of his family.

DANIELS: It’s like, “Man, we lost a key component to our team. He’s like a brother.”

RIVERS: That starting lineup, [when healthy] has never lost a playoff series.

GARNETT: I wish Danny Ainge would have paid attention to that.

Thunder Buddies

Perkins inked a four-year, $36 million contract extension with the Thunder that March. With OKC fresh off its first playoff appearance in 2010, Perkins’s arrival perfectly preceded a deep playoff run. The Thunder reached the conference finals in 2011 and the Finals in 2012. OKC never missed the postseason during Perkins’s tenure.

BOUTTE: He was hurt when he first went to Oklahoma, but him being such a good teammate, he was the perfect person for the organization at the time.

PERKINS: I watched how [Garnett] worked, I watched how he operated, I watched his leadership skills and I just took it all in and brought it to my next stop.

PIERCE: That’s the reason you saw Perkins wore No. 5 [Garnett’s number in Boston] when he went to Oklahoma City.

NICK COLLISON, THUNDER FORWARD: We were starting to play in playoff series. A lot of us hadn’t had much experience there, so I think he was great for us at that time. He really deserves a lot of credit for the success we’ve had over the years.

PERKINS: Our first shootaround, I came in and [Durant and Westbrook] was laughing and joking and I was like, “Ay man, listen up. Lock in.” I remember them kind of barking back and got into an argument. But we ain’t have no problems ever since.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, THUNDER GUARD: He didn’t hold nothing back. If he saw something that would help our team, he’d let you know.

RONNIE BREWER, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): The mentality our Thunder team had, you’re not going to push us around, he did that.

ANTHONY MORROW, THUNDER GUARD (2014-17): He knew how to connect with different guys in just a couple words to light a fire under him and get him going. It was definitely unique to see that.

ANDRE ROBERSON, THUNDER GUARD: His house was always open.

WESTBROOK: People would come by, just chill, enjoy each other’s company, maybe watch a game or some boxing, whatever was on TV that day.

REGGIE JACKSON, THUNDER GUARD (2011-15): I had times where Perk showed up to my house just because he could tell I had a bad week. It was perfect timing, it was the right words, it just kept me chugging along.

COLLISON: The big thing with him is that he always had a good feel on where collectively the morale was.

CARON BUTLER, THUNDER FORWARD (2014): Late night, he’d send texts like after a tough loss. He couldn’t sleep. He’d text you at two, three in the morning. “How you doing? Damn, man. What you see out there?”

THABO SEFOLOSHA, THUNDER FORWARD (2008-14): It was always about how we can improve, things we can do better, things that we did well that night, keeping it up.

WESTBROOK: If I had a bad game, he’d call. If I had a good game, he’d call. I know if I needed to call somebody at 3, 4 in the morning, he’s always gonna be up to answer the phone regardless of what’s going on. That’s what makes him special. It’s not just one time, it’s not once a week, it’s all the time.

GARNETT: I taught him how to communicate.

PERKINS: Everybody who has my phone, they can call me anytime. If I’m up, I’ll answer it. There was a time, KD was struggling mentally and he just called me. Russell went down. Even before he started getting into the chatter about the MVP conversation. I was telling him, ‘Hey man, you’re the MVP. You can do this.”

SERGE IBAKA, THUNDER FORWARD (2009-16): On the bench, off the bench, he’s going to talk. He loves to talk, use his voice, to get your confidence up when your confidence is down.

STEVEN ADAMS, THUNDER CENTER: He did give me some advice, but it seems a bit brutish: “Go out and make sure you hit this guy.”

JACKSON: Everybody always sees the persona of him, just this mean guy on the court, but off of the court he’s this big teddy bear.

DEANDRE LIGGINS, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): When I got to OKC, I went to the store for him. He gave me this big lump sum for no reason. Like, “Go to Starbucks for me and get some coffee,” and he gave me like $1,000 and told me to keep the change.

BUTLER: He was always honest in film. [In the 2014 playoffs, down 2-1 to Memphis], we ended up winning that and going to the Western Conference finals just because of the conversation that he led in [a] film session.

PERKINS: I told KD he was the best player in the league and he needed to act like it.

SEFOLOSHA: It was real intense. Our backs were against the wall and he knew what we needed to do. The message got through to everybody.

WESTBROOK: He wanted to have a man-to-man type of speech, and I think that was something we needed as a group and our entire defense to buckle down.

ADAMS: That’s why people like him and that’s why a lot of teams want him around. Nobody gets away with anything, he makes sure you’re honest and do whatever your job is.

The Last Chapter

As the 2014-15 season approached its midway point, Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti schemed to surround Durant and Westbrook with younger, more malleable frontcourt talent. The Thunder bid Perkins farewell in exchange for Utah forward Enes Kanter in a three-team trade. The Jazz ultimately waived Perkins, opening the door for another shot at a title.

THIBODEAU, CHICAGO BULLS HEAD COACH (2010-2015): I talked to him about coming to Chicago.

RIVERS: There is no better guy to have on your team to help facilitate roles to the other teammates than Perk.

PERKINS: I felt like Cleveland was the best in the East and they would have the easiest walk to the Finals. That’s what made me choose. It was hard turning down Doc and Thibs, but I had to.

DAVID BLATT, CAVALIERS HEAD COACH (2014-16): Getting Perk at the time frame that we did was great for us. We had a good locker room, but Perk is another strong voice and experienced leader.

POSEY, CAVALIERS ASSISTANT COACH: A couple times, he got the guys together from afar, like, “Yo, this some bullshit. We out there bullshitting around, we fucking around. We got a good opportunity. Pick this shit up.” He looked at people in the face. Pointing ‘em out. “Come on! What you gonna do? What we gonna do?” Everybody, they got the point, they got the message.

PERKINS: They was looking at me like, “What the fuck?” I was just letting them know I was all in.

J.R. SMITH, CAVALIERS GUARD: Right around 78, 79 games, something like that, he was telling everybody, “This is a tough ride, we about to buckle down.”

IMAN SHUMPERT, CAVALIERS GUARD: Perk is unbelievable with keeping his mind set on what the bigger picture is.

JAMES JONES, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-17): He’s really all about business when it’s time for business. He doesn’t hold back. If it’s LeBron, if it’s a rookie, if it’s a coach, if it’s the GM, he’ll point ‘em out if it’s not the right thing. He just holds everyone accountable regardless of position or status.

PERKINS: Bron, he took a backseat and let me be a leader. He was letting me talk a lot—pregame speeches—and they gave me a voice right off the bat.

MIKE MILLER, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-15): He is to me, one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had and I only had him for half a year.

Perkins departed Cleveland after its championship loss to Golden State for the New Orleans Pelicans and a chance to mentor Anthony Davis in 2015-16.

DANTE CUNNINGHAM, PELICANS FORWARD: He would’ve been a [veteran] that I wanted to have coming in. Just his knowledge of the game, his knowledge off the court, just how personable he is, just making sure that you’re doing well not only as a player but as a person.

ALVIN GENTRY, PELICANS HEAD COACH: The great thing about it was that Anthony has a lot of respect for him. It wasn’t unlike Perk to challenge him in a lot of situations and have Anthony respond to it. It was a good relationship. They did everything together. They spent a lot of time talking, even during the games, Perk was pulling him to the side and saying certain things to him.

PERKINS: I got a chance to play with a lot of future Hall of Famers and I don’t take that for granted one day.

At 32 years old, Perkins texted Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue to rejoin Cleveland for training camp after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign. He'd been training three times a day back in Houston. The Cavs didn’t hesitate welcoming him back into their locker room. Perkins seems like a natural fit on a team full of veterans, focused solely on a championship. Although a roster crunch could ultimately end his career, many expect Perkins to have a long tenure coaching in the NBA. Regardless of his future, he’s left a lasting imprint on the league.

PERKINS: I’d love to coach when I finish playing one day. I know a lot of GMs that value my knowledge of the game. I would have a lot of options. I probably would call up Oklahoma City.

PIERCE: Perk is probably one of the last of the old school vets that learned from the older guys in the way of giving back to the young guys. That’s just the type of person he is. You see that big scowl on his face, he look all mean on the court, but off the court, all his teammates love him.

GARNETT: I love him. That’s my real life brother, man. We have a super strong connection. That bond will never be broken and I’d do anything for ‘em.

WESTBROOK: He’s one of the most unselfish guys I know, just willing to sacrifice to help other people out.

RIVERS: He’s a sunshine guy. There’s guys who bring sunshine. He’s one of those guys.

Oral History: Kendrick Perkins, the NBA's Best Teammate

Kevin Durant shuffled behind the glass podium, peering across two rows of his 2013-14 Oklahoma City Thunder teammates. He thanks Hasheem Thabeet for his comic relief. He praises Derek Fisher for his infectious professionalism. “Perk,” Durant continues, eying starting center Kendrick Perkins. “I hated you before you got here. But the moment you got here, man, you just changed my whole perception of you. Just one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, man. I thank you so much.”

Durant’s voice begins to waver now. Emotion bubbles in his throat. “The late night calls. You texting me, telling me I’m the MVP.” Durant abruptly stops. He bows his head as the crowd erupts in applause. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player even has to remove his glasses to wipe away the welling tears.

It was a small sequence in an unforgettably heartfelt, 20-plus minute acceptance speech from Durant, yet a highly regular sentiment owned by countless players across the NBA. Perkins, a lumbering defensive presence with pedestrian career averages of 5.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, is widely considered the greatest teammate in modern NBA history. “He’s the type of guy that’s willing to do whatever it takes to help your teammates,” Russell Westbrook told The Crossover. “The thing that we all love about Perk,” adds Wizards coach Scott Brooks, “is that he cares. He has a big heart and he’s only about winning.”

Perkins established a group text message with Durant and Westbrook upon arriving in Oklahoma City. “I didn’t know KD and Russ from a can of paint,” he says. “I just wanted to get it like how we had it in Boston.” They pinged the thread day and night, dishing football smack and NBA rumors. “We’re in it a lot,” Westbrook said back in April 2016, even after Perkins left the Thunder. “That’s the type of relationship we have [with him].” The group message has been silent following Durant’s departure to Oakland last summer. Perkins thinks it will resume activity in the future. “At least they’re talking to each other again,” he said. “I know they had talked right after they announced Russ won MVP. They texted. I think they broke the ice.”

Perkins’s influence followed Durant to Golden State. LeBron James and the Cavaliers still hear his voice emanating in Cleveland’s training camp. He has deep connections with Doc Rivers and the Clippers, Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves, Scott Brooks and the Wizards, and Alvin Gentry, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo in New Orleans. His leadership style will empower Westbrook to coexist with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. His former teammate Kyrie Irving will look to rule his former home in Boston. So how exactly did a shy child from Beaumont, Texas, establish an enduring legacy amongst the NBA’s elite?

(The following interviews have been lightly edited for clarity).

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'He Was a Quiet Kid'

The town of Beaumont sits 90 minutes east of Houston. Hal Pastner and his son, current Georgia Tech head coach, Josh, launched Perkins’s career in their legendary Houston Hoops AAU program, responsible for grooming the likes of Emeka Okafor, Rashard Lewis, Stephen Jackson, T.J. Ford and many others.

HAL PASTNER: We just took to Kendrick. He was a quiet kid, really quiet. Kendrick would stay at our house in the summers. He was afraid to go upstairs because it was dark.

JOSH PASTNER: [Kendrick] always had long arms and was kinda gangly. It didn’t matter if you were up 20, down 20, he had that death stare toward you. He was like one of those secret service agents.

HAL PASTNER: Right around around the same time we found Kendrick, Ndudi Ebi started with us, and over the summer they both shot up nearly a foot. They were about about 6’7” and lanky. I remember we played LeBron James in eighth grade and we beat ‘em, and LeBron came up to us after the game and said, “Man, we couldn’t stop the twin towers.”

After starring at Lamar University, Kenneth Perkins left his wife and 18-month-old son, Kendrick, to play professionally in New Zealand. When Kendrick was 5 years old, his mother was shot dead while working at a beauty salon. Essentially orphaned, Perkins’s maternal grandparents claimed his custody. His basketball family also reared him.

HAL PASTNER: Coach Boutte really started looking after him later on.

ANDRE BOUTTE, OZEN HIGH SCHOOL HEAD COACH: He needed that father figure at the time. We went fishing every now and then together at Sabine Lake, just talked day-to-day like you would with a son. Any time a kid is that age and went through some of the things he did, the most important thing is try to put a smile on their face.

From 1999 to 2003, Perkins led Ozen High to four district championships and one state title. Behind his 27.5 points, 16.4 rebounds and 7.8 blocked shots per game as a senior, Ozen compiled a 33-1 record, only losing in the state 4A championship game.

MIKE KUNSTADT, TEXAS HOOPS MAGAZINE: He just used his body so well to get around the basket. And once he was there, he just overpowered you. He didn’t have explosiveness as far as blocking shots, but long arms and good timing and was a great rim protector.

BOUTTE: [Then-Celtics GM] Chris Wallace came to a game. [Spurs GM] R.C. Buford was at one of our games. He signed with Memphis early. He was gonna go play for [John] Calipari, because I wanted him to play for an NBA–type coach that would work him real hard. It wasn’t until he actually declared [for the NBA draft] that you had a little contact to see where he was gonna be slotted. We were pretty confident he would go first round.

Early Year Enforcer

The Celtics acquired Kendrick Perkins, the No. 27 pick in the 2003 NBA draft, from the Grizzlies in a draft-night trade, fully prepared for the colossal 18-year-old to essentially redshirt his rookie season.

BOUTTE: It was like the world being lifted off of his shoulders. But any time you have a high school kid, you’re concerned about whether or not they’re gonna be able to take the day-to-day rigors of NBA life.

DANNY AINGE, CELTICS GM: When he came in for his draft workout, he was well over 300 pounds, over 22% body fat, a 22-inch vertical only. He was overweight. He needed a lot of work on his body.

JAMIE YOUNG, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH: The first thing Perk really started doing was working his body into shape.

PERKINS: It was hard. I didn’t get a chance to play much. They basically sat me out a whole year just to work on my body. It was a different experience for sure, but it was something I needed to do to get my career going.

AINGE: He sort of went from being a fat kid to being cut. My office looks right down into the weight room, and I remember Kendrick—I could see him, he didn’t see me—I could see him looking at himself in the mirror with his shirt off. It was funny, it was cute, but it was symbolic of just how hard he had worked and how gratifying it was for him to see the results.

MIKE JAMES, CELTICS GUARD (2003-04): He was quiet because he was listening. He was learning, soaking everything in. He was paying his dues, paying his respects, being a rookie.

PAUL PIERCE, CELTICS FORWARD (1998-2013): He was my little young rookie. A lot of times, veterans rub off on them.

WALTER MCCARTY, CELTICS FORWARD (1997-05): Him and Brandon Hunter, me being one of the veterans, I was switching out TVs in my house, I had about four or five of the old TVs and I had the rookies come over: Take the new one’s up, bring the old ones down, and had ‘em working for me out there at the house. It was pretty funny to see these young kids running in an out, big strong young guys and just putting them to work.

A young Perkins worked his hardest during practice the following season. When the Celtics drafted the 6’10" Al Jefferson at No. 15 in the 2004 NBA draft, Boston not only added a promising frontcourt talent, but a sparring partner for Big Perk.

MCCARTY: They used to go at it. Perk went at it with everybody.

DOC RIVERS, CELTICS HEAD COACH (2004-13): They played tons of 1-on-1. There were many times where you actually contemplated stopping it because you’re like, “One of these guys is gonna get hurt.” That’s how physical it was.

CLIFFORD RAY, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2005-10): They really had some good battles. I thought Al made Perk better, because he was such a prolific scorer. We used to call him Buckets. He used to say, ‘Yea, coach. I just get buckets!’ Al Jefferson has tremendous ability. He had a God given gift. Perk was the opposite. He was a true center. When I look at Perk, he was always our best defender. If someone was going to come down the middle, he would be there. He knew when to go for the shot block and when to take the charge.

RIVERS: Perk and Al were just trying to find themselves. Al was the offensive guy. I think that actually helped Perk a lot. It helped him define a role early in his career.

YOUNG: His role was more of an enforcer.

The Celtics were still rebuilding around Pierce during the 2006-07 season, but began to play with the edge of a playoff contender. When Boston visited the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 11 that winter, Perkins displayed his burgeoning reputation as a defensive anchor.

TOM THIBODEAU, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2007-10): Perk really starred in his role and his role really was to do a lot of the dirty work.

JAMES: He was always throwing his lip up and frowning. He was angry.

GERALD GREEN, CELTICS GUARD (2005-07): He was the enforcer, so sometimes he might have to make a hard foul.

YOUNG: I remember playing Minnesota and I remember Perk talking a lot of trash to [Kevin Garnett].

JAMES: Kendrick’s not gonna back down from no one. He’s not a punk.

RIVERS: The thing I liked about Perk was he didn’t care that you were KG or Kobe or Michael or whoever it was. He was convinced that you couldn’t score on him. He always made the comment, “You may be great, but not tonight.” I used to love it. I thought it really irritated star players.

KEVIN GARNETT, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES FORWARD (1995-2007): We had obviously clashed and had numerous occasions where we banged a little bit. When you’re older and the big dog, you got little pups and stuff wanting to come at you night in and night out. It always got me going. It always motivated me.

PIERCE: They almost got into a fight.

YOUNG: I don’t remember exactly what happened postgame, but there was a little—there wasn't any physical altercation—but there was some verbal altercation between the two.

Big Three Era

Perkins’s barking still rang in Garnett’s ears when Minnesota and Boston discussed a blockbuster trade on draft night that June. The Celtics remained firm: Boston would only exchange Jefferson and a horde of other assets if Garnett agreed to a contract extension. Talks regained steam in July, with Boston having already acquired sharpshooting, All-Star guard Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics. This time, before ultimately signing, Garnett phoned Pierce.

PIERCE: Kevin was like, “What’s up with Perk? Is he gonna want to fight me when I come to the team?”

GARNETT, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-13): I asked Paul, not really concerned but I just wanted to come into it, handle whatever we needed to handle.

PIERCE: I was like, “Man, you don’t even know how much he look up to you.” Kevin couldn’t believe it.

GARNETT: We sat and we talked. The first day I got there, we were like best friends. Once we got on the same page, man, we were off and running. I’m not gonna take anybody that doesn’t want to work. I don’t like people who complained. I don’t like people who don’t have a work ethic. I don’t do quitters. I wanted to see how he worked on his own. Perk was just similar to me. We were grinders, kind of physical specimens.

PIERCE: It was like seeing a big brother look out for his little brother—take him out to the backyard, let’s go play catch—it looked like that.

RAY ALLEN, CELTICS (2007-12): When we got there, KG, it really gave him somebody that he can see and kind of look up to. When he got to see KG work, he had somebody that was always going to communicate with him, somebody that was always gonna have his back. He started emulating what KG was.

PIERCE: Kevin inspired a lot of the kids in the league that came out of high school.

AINGE: I think they had a mutual admiration for each other, because both of those guys were 100% team guys and both of those guys were hard-working, tough-minded. That’s why they hit it off so quick. It’s tough to win KG over. I don’t think it took Perk very long at all before he had KG’s respect.

RIVERS: I do remember the first practice. The trash talking. It was really the second unit vs. the first unit. It was distracting. It was literally 30 minutes into the first practice that we ever had and Eddie House and James Posey and that group decided that they weren’t going to take any crap from the first unit.

JAMES POSEY, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-08): It was intense, being that was the first start of our journey, having a chance and thinking we could win it all.

RIVERS: I had to blow the whistle two or three times and just tell ‘em, “Either you can play, or you can talk. The first group is able to do both. But the guys that can’t, shut up!”

ALLEN: We were a bunch of A-type personality guys.

GARNETT: We got into arguments, we got into fights, we wrestled. We were a team full of barbarians. We were like 300. It was us against the world, straight out. If you ask anybody from that team, we felt like we were straight up warriors and straight up Greek gods and goddesses and all this other shit.

MIKE ZARREN, CELTICS ASSISTANT GM: That group just worked great together. Everybody understood what their role was. Kevin preferred to play 4, rather than 5. He loved to have Perk around to take the brunt of the banging with other big buys. Perk was happy to do that as well.

GARNETT: We were responsible for talking, if not calling out defenses as far as strategies, coverages and stuff like that. Doc put that responsibility on us. We were both decent passers. Him and I, we gelled quicker on the court, as far as basketball, more than anybody else.

PERKINS: When [KG] first got [to Boston]: “Hey listen, me and you, we gonna anchor the defense, we’re gonna set screens and get Paul and Ray open, and when I hit you with the pass, make sure you be ready to finish.”

MIKE GORMAN, CSNNE CELTICS PLAY-BY-PLAY: I always thought that a lot of KG’s bravado was backed up by the fact that, if you looked immediately over his right-hand shoulder, Perk was standing there. I always thought Perk was kind of the man behind the myth there. He had a cop standing right behind him to take care of business if things didn’t work out.

THIBODEAU: He was obviously a big part of the championship team. A very hard guy to score against and offensively, probably didn’t get enough credit for setting great screens and being real active.

Boston indeed claimed the 2008 title that June, in six games over the Los Angeles Lakers. As the Celtics contended for the championship over the next three years, Perkins emerged from Garnett’s tutelage as the consummate professional.

PIERCE: He’ll sacrifice anything for his teammates. He’ll give you the last chair at breakfast, he’ll make sure the younger guys are alright. To earn respect, you have to give respect, and that’s what Perkins is.

GARNETT: If you know anything about his upbringing, he had a pretty tough upbringing, lost his moms. He became a breadwinner in the house very early, learned a lot of different things from different people.

PERKINS: Your upbringing plays a major part in how you act as a person. I’m just a guy where, if I’m with you, I’m all the way with you. They’re ain’t no half and half. If I’m with you, I’ma ride with you til the end.

GREEN: Sometimes Perk was the incredible Hulk, sometimes he was the teddy bear. Perk bought me so much stuff, man. My rookie year he took me shopping. We went to L.A. and there was a guy named Faruk. He used to always have jeans and stuff. Perk bought me, like, four or five outfits.

MARQUIS DANIELS, CELTICS GUARD (2009-12): There were other guys that didn’t have their car in town yet and he’s like, “Here you can borrow my car. You can come to my house and eat.” Or he’d take them out to eat.

BILL WALKER, CELTICS FORWARD (2008-10): He would always call me when we were on the road to hang out with him. We'd go for food and he would just tell me stories about how to prepare and how to work. He always was encouraging and always willing to help me break down things on film to get better.

BRIAN SCALABRINE, CELTICS FORWARD (2006-10): He still remembers my kids' names and I haven’t played with Perk in over six years and, at the time, my kids were 2 and just a newborn.

After falling short in 2009, the Celtics returned to the Finals in 2010. Boston carried a 3-2 lead back to Los Angeles for Games 6 and 7 against the Lakers. Just under seven minutes into Game 6, Perkins crashed to the floor after battling for a rebound.

TONY ALLEN, CELTICS GUARD (2004-10): [Perk] was one of the best centers in the league before his injury.

ZARREN: The moment it happened on the court, his knee didn’t move in a way that was awful. You see some nasty knee injuries, that wasn’t one, in terms of how it looked live or watching replays.

ALLEN: I was scared for him, for his health and safety. And then I was scared for our ability to win an NBA championship after that because I thought, “How could we win it without him?”

AINGE: It was tough to see him go down.

ZARREN: He came back to the locker room and by the time we got down there it was pretty clear it was a significant knee injury. Everyone was just crying in the locker room.

RIVERS: For me, it more was emotional that Perk wouldn’t have the chance to play in that Game 7.

ZARREN: We had played pretty well with Rasheed [Wallace] playing that year.

RAY ALLEN: We just had to try and steal one more game.

RIVERS: It actually showed the value of Perk quite a bit. It took away our enforcer. Kevin had to spend half the game trying to be that and play and I thought that took a lot out of him.

DANIELS: I think he made a huge difference between us having a ring that year and not getting one.

PERKINS: Defense wasn’t the problem, it was who wanted it the most. And I actually think they went and took it from us.

ZARREN: There’s a certain swagger about Perk that he brought to that team. Who knows how the next game would have gone if Perk had played? The losing still hurts so bad. None of us, I’m sure Perk included, will ever get over that game.

Testing proved Perkins tore his right ACL, forcing him to rehab for the majority of the following season. After Perkins played just 12 games for the Celtics in 2011, Boston re-evaluated the future of their frontcourt and set its sights on Oklahoma City swingman Jeff Green, ultimately dealing Perkins for him at the trade deadline.

PERKINS: I cried.

AINGE: It was very difficult. I loved him. We sort of raised him. We just knew that he was going to be very expensive. He became so expensive to Oklahoma City that they had to move [James] Harden.

ZARREN: There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when we agreed to that trade.

RIVERS: I would say in the years that I’ve coached, it was the hardest trade for me. It was the hardest reaction that I’ve ever seen in a locker room as a coach. There were literally tears in the locker room. It was almost like a death.

ALLEN: I was hurting for him, because I knew where his heart was. I knew he had only played for one team his whole career. He wanted what everybody else wanted. He wanted to be compensated, he wanted to make enough money so he could take care of his family.

DANIELS: It’s like, “Man, we lost a key component to our team. He’s like a brother.”

RIVERS: That starting lineup, [when healthy] has never lost a playoff series.

GARNETT: I wish Danny Ainge would have paid attention to that.

Thunder Buddies

Perkins inked a four-year, $36 million contract extension with the Thunder that March. With OKC fresh off its first playoff appearance in 2010, Perkins’s arrival perfectly preceded a deep playoff run. The Thunder reached the conference finals in 2011 and the Finals in 2012. OKC never missed the postseason during Perkins’s tenure.

BOUTTE: He was hurt when he first went to Oklahoma, but him being such a good teammate, he was the perfect person for the organization at the time.

PERKINS: I watched how [Garnett] worked, I watched how he operated, I watched his leadership skills and I just took it all in and brought it to my next stop.

PIERCE: That’s the reason you saw Perkins wore No. 5 [Garnett’s number in Boston] when he went to Oklahoma City.

NICK COLLISON, THUNDER FORWARD: We were starting to play in playoff series. A lot of us hadn’t had much experience there, so I think he was great for us at that time. He really deserves a lot of credit for the success we’ve had over the years.

PERKINS: Our first shootaround, I came in and [Durant and Westbrook] was laughing and joking and I was like, “Ay man, listen up. Lock in.” I remember them kind of barking back and got into an argument. But we ain’t have no problems ever since.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, THUNDER GUARD: He didn’t hold nothing back. If he saw something that would help our team, he’d let you know.

RONNIE BREWER, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): The mentality our Thunder team had, you’re not going to push us around, he did that.

ANTHONY MORROW, THUNDER GUARD (2014-17): He knew how to connect with different guys in just a couple words to light a fire under him and get him going. It was definitely unique to see that.

ANDRE ROBERSON, THUNDER GUARD: His house was always open.

WESTBROOK: People would come by, just chill, enjoy each other’s company, maybe watch a game or some boxing, whatever was on TV that day.

REGGIE JACKSON, THUNDER GUARD (2011-15): I had times where Perk showed up to my house just because he could tell I had a bad week. It was perfect timing, it was the right words, it just kept me chugging along.

COLLISON: The big thing with him is that he always had a good feel on where collectively the morale was.

CARON BUTLER, THUNDER FORWARD (2014): Late night, he’d send texts like after a tough loss. He couldn’t sleep. He’d text you at two, three in the morning. “How you doing? Damn, man. What you see out there?”

THABO SEFOLOSHA, THUNDER FORWARD (2008-14): It was always about how we can improve, things we can do better, things that we did well that night, keeping it up.

WESTBROOK: If I had a bad game, he’d call. If I had a good game, he’d call. I know if I needed to call somebody at 3, 4 in the morning, he’s always gonna be up to answer the phone regardless of what’s going on. That’s what makes him special. It’s not just one time, it’s not once a week, it’s all the time.

GARNETT: I taught him how to communicate.

PERKINS: Everybody who has my phone, they can call me anytime. If I’m up, I’ll answer it. There was a time, KD was struggling mentally and he just called me. Russell went down. Even before he started getting into the chatter about the MVP conversation. I was telling him, ‘Hey man, you’re the MVP. You can do this.”

SERGE IBAKA, THUNDER FORWARD (2009-16): On the bench, off the bench, he’s going to talk. He loves to talk, use his voice, to get your confidence up when your confidence is down.

STEVEN ADAMS, THUNDER CENTER: He did give me some advice, but it seems a bit brutish: “Go out and make sure you hit this guy.”

JACKSON: Everybody always sees the persona of him, just this mean guy on the court, but off of the court he’s this big teddy bear.

DEANDRE LIGGINS, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): When I got to OKC, I went to the store for him. He gave me this big lump sum for no reason. Like, “Go to Starbucks for me and get some coffee,” and he gave me like $1,000 and told me to keep the change.

BUTLER: He was always honest in film. [In the 2014 playoffs, down 2-1 to Memphis], we ended up winning that and going to the Western Conference finals just because of the conversation that he led in [a] film session.

PERKINS: I told KD he was the best player in the league and he needed to act like it.

SEFOLOSHA: It was real intense. Our backs were against the wall and he knew what we needed to do. The message got through to everybody.

WESTBROOK: He wanted to have a man-to-man type of speech, and I think that was something we needed as a group and our entire defense to buckle down.

ADAMS: That’s why people like him and that’s why a lot of teams want him around. Nobody gets away with anything, he makes sure you’re honest and do whatever your job is.

The Last Chapter

As the 2014-15 season approached its midway point, Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti schemed to surround Durant and Westbrook with younger, more malleable frontcourt talent. The Thunder bid Perkins farewell in exchange for Utah forward Enes Kanter in a three-team trade. The Jazz ultimately waived Perkins, opening the door for another shot at a title.

THIBODEAU, CHICAGO BULLS HEAD COACH (2010-2015): I talked to him about coming to Chicago.

RIVERS: There is no better guy to have on your team to help facilitate roles to the other teammates than Perk.

PERKINS: I felt like Cleveland was the best in the East and they would have the easiest walk to the Finals. That’s what made me choose. It was hard turning down Doc and Thibs, but I had to.

DAVID BLATT, CAVALIERS HEAD COACH (2014-16): Getting Perk at the time frame that we did was great for us. We had a good locker room, but Perk is another strong voice and experienced leader.

POSEY, CAVALIERS ASSISTANT COACH: A couple times, he got the guys together from afar, like, “Yo, this some bullshit. We out there bullshitting around, we fucking around. We got a good opportunity. Pick this shit up.” He looked at people in the face. Pointing ‘em out. “Come on! What you gonna do? What we gonna do?” Everybody, they got the point, they got the message.

PERKINS: They was looking at me like, “What the fuck?” I was just letting them know I was all in.

J.R. SMITH, CAVALIERS GUARD: Right around 78, 79 games, something like that, he was telling everybody, “This is a tough ride, we about to buckle down.”

IMAN SHUMPERT, CAVALIERS GUARD: Perk is unbelievable with keeping his mind set on what the bigger picture is.

JAMES JONES, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-17): He’s really all about business when it’s time for business. He doesn’t hold back. If it’s LeBron, if it’s a rookie, if it’s a coach, if it’s the GM, he’ll point ‘em out if it’s not the right thing. He just holds everyone accountable regardless of position or status.

PERKINS: Bron, he took a backseat and let me be a leader. He was letting me talk a lot—pregame speeches—and they gave me a voice right off the bat.

MIKE MILLER, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-15): He is to me, one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had and I only had him for half a year.

Perkins departed Cleveland after its championship loss to Golden State for the New Orleans Pelicans and a chance to mentor Anthony Davis in 2015-16.

DANTE CUNNINGHAM, PELICANS FORWARD: He would’ve been a [veteran] that I wanted to have coming in. Just his knowledge of the game, his knowledge off the court, just how personable he is, just making sure that you’re doing well not only as a player but as a person.

ALVIN GENTRY, PELICANS HEAD COACH: The great thing about it was that Anthony has a lot of respect for him. It wasn’t unlike Perk to challenge him in a lot of situations and have Anthony respond to it. It was a good relationship. They did everything together. They spent a lot of time talking, even during the games, Perk was pulling him to the side and saying certain things to him.

PERKINS: I got a chance to play with a lot of future Hall of Famers and I don’t take that for granted one day.

At 32 years old, Perkins texted Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue to rejoin Cleveland for training camp after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign. He'd been training three times a day back in Houston. The Cavs didn’t hesitate welcoming him back into their locker room. Perkins seems like a natural fit on a team full of veterans, focused solely on a championship. Although a roster crunch could ultimately end his career, many expect Perkins to have a long tenure coaching in the NBA. Regardless of his future, he’s left a lasting imprint on the league.

PERKINS: I’d love to coach when I finish playing one day. I know a lot of GMs that value my knowledge of the game. I would have a lot of options. I probably would call up Oklahoma City.

PIERCE: Perk is probably one of the last of the old school vets that learned from the older guys in the way of giving back to the young guys. That’s just the type of person he is. You see that big scowl on his face, he look all mean on the court, but off the court, all his teammates love him.

GARNETT: I love him. That’s my real life brother, man. We have a super strong connection. That bond will never be broken and I’d do anything for ‘em.

WESTBROOK: He’s one of the most unselfish guys I know, just willing to sacrifice to help other people out.

RIVERS: He’s a sunshine guy. There’s guys who bring sunshine. He’s one of those guys.

Oral History: Kendrick Perkins, the NBA's Best Teammate

Kevin Durant shuffled behind the glass podium, peering across two rows of his 2013-14 Oklahoma City Thunder teammates. He thanks Hasheem Thabeet for his comic relief. He praises Derek Fisher for his infectious professionalism. “Perk,” Durant continues, eying starting center Kendrick Perkins. “I hated you before you got here. But the moment you got here, man, you just changed my whole perception of you. Just one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, man. I thank you so much.”

Durant’s voice begins to waver now. Emotion bubbles in his throat. “The late night calls. You texting me, telling me I’m the MVP.” Durant abruptly stops. He bows his head as the crowd erupts in applause. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player even has to remove his glasses to wipe away the welling tears.

It was a small sequence in an unforgettably heartfelt, 20-plus minute acceptance speech from Durant, yet a highly regular sentiment owned by countless players across the NBA. Perkins, a lumbering defensive presence with pedestrian career averages of 5.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, is widely considered the greatest teammate in modern NBA history. “He’s the type of guy that’s willing to do whatever it takes to help your teammates,” Russell Westbrook told The Crossover. “The thing that we all love about Perk,” adds Wizards coach Scott Brooks, “is that he cares. He has a big heart and he’s only about winning.”

Perkins established a group text message with Durant and Westbrook upon arriving in Oklahoma City. “I didn’t know KD and Russ from a can of paint,” he says. “I just wanted to get it like how we had it in Boston.” They pinged the thread day and night, dishing football smack and NBA rumors. “We’re in it a lot,” Westbrook said back in April 2016, even after Perkins left the Thunder. “That’s the type of relationship we have [with him].” The group message has been silent following Durant’s departure to Oakland last summer. Perkins thinks it will resume activity in the future. “At least they’re talking to each other again,” he said. “I know they had talked right after they announced Russ won MVP. They texted. I think they broke the ice.”

Perkins’s influence followed Durant to Golden State. LeBron James and the Cavaliers still hear his voice emanating in Cleveland’s training camp. He has deep connections with Doc Rivers and the Clippers, Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves, Scott Brooks and the Wizards, and Alvin Gentry, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo in New Orleans. His leadership style will empower Westbrook to coexist with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. His former teammate Kyrie Irving will look to rule his former home in Boston. So how exactly did a shy child from Beaumont, Texas, establish an enduring legacy amongst the NBA’s elite?

(The following interviews have been lightly edited for clarity).

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'He Was a Quiet Kid'

The town of Beaumont sits 90 minutes east of Houston. Hal Pastner and his son, current Georgia Tech head coach, Josh, launched Perkins’s career in their legendary Houston Hoops AAU program, responsible for grooming the likes of Emeka Okafor, Rashard Lewis, Stephen Jackson, T.J. Ford and many others.

HAL PASTNER: We just took to Kendrick. He was a quiet kid, really quiet. Kendrick would stay at our house in the summers. He was afraid to go upstairs because it was dark.

JOSH PASTNER: [Kendrick] always had long arms and was kinda gangly. It didn’t matter if you were up 20, down 20, he had that death stare toward you. He was like one of those secret service agents.

HAL PASTNER: Right around around the same time we found Kendrick, Ndudi Ebi started with us, and over the summer they both shot up nearly a foot. They were about about 6’7” and lanky. I remember we played LeBron James in eighth grade and we beat ‘em, and LeBron came up to us after the game and said, “Man, we couldn’t stop the twin towers.”

After starring at Lamar University, Kenneth Perkins left his wife and 18-month-old son, Kendrick, to play professionally in New Zealand. When Kendrick was 5 years old, his mother was shot dead while working at a beauty salon. Essentially orphaned, Perkins’s maternal grandparents claimed his custody. His basketball family also reared him.

HAL PASTNER: Coach Boutte really started looking after him later on.

ANDRE BOUTTE, OZEN HIGH SCHOOL HEAD COACH: He needed that father figure at the time. We went fishing every now and then together at Sabine Lake, just talked day-to-day like you would with a son. Any time a kid is that age and went through some of the things he did, the most important thing is try to put a smile on their face.

From 1999 to 2003, Perkins led Ozen High to four district championships and one state title. Behind his 27.5 points, 16.4 rebounds and 7.8 blocked shots per game as a senior, Ozen compiled a 33-1 record, only losing in the state 4A championship game.

MIKE KUNSTADT, TEXAS HOOPS MAGAZINE: He just used his body so well to get around the basket. And once he was there, he just overpowered you. He didn’t have explosiveness as far as blocking shots, but long arms and good timing and was a great rim protector.

BOUTTE: [Then-Celtics GM] Chris Wallace came to a game. [Spurs GM] R.C. Buford was at one of our games. He signed with Memphis early. He was gonna go play for [John] Calipari, because I wanted him to play for an NBA–type coach that would work him real hard. It wasn’t until he actually declared [for the NBA draft] that you had a little contact to see where he was gonna be slotted. We were pretty confident he would go first round.

Early Year Enforcer

The Celtics acquired Kendrick Perkins, the No. 27 pick in the 2003 NBA draft, from the Grizzlies in a draft-night trade, fully prepared for the colossal 18-year-old to essentially redshirt his rookie season.

BOUTTE: It was like the world being lifted off of his shoulders. But any time you have a high school kid, you’re concerned about whether or not they’re gonna be able to take the day-to-day rigors of NBA life.

DANNY AINGE, CELTICS GM: When he came in for his draft workout, he was well over 300 pounds, over 22% body fat, a 22-inch vertical only. He was overweight. He needed a lot of work on his body.

JAMIE YOUNG, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH: The first thing Perk really started doing was working his body into shape.

PERKINS: It was hard. I didn’t get a chance to play much. They basically sat me out a whole year just to work on my body. It was a different experience for sure, but it was something I needed to do to get my career going.

AINGE: He sort of went from being a fat kid to being cut. My office looks right down into the weight room, and I remember Kendrick—I could see him, he didn’t see me—I could see him looking at himself in the mirror with his shirt off. It was funny, it was cute, but it was symbolic of just how hard he had worked and how gratifying it was for him to see the results.

MIKE JAMES, CELTICS GUARD (2003-04): He was quiet because he was listening. He was learning, soaking everything in. He was paying his dues, paying his respects, being a rookie.

PAUL PIERCE, CELTICS FORWARD (1998-2013): He was my little young rookie. A lot of times, veterans rub off on them.

WALTER MCCARTY, CELTICS FORWARD (1997-05): Him and Brandon Hunter, me being one of the veterans, I was switching out TVs in my house, I had about four or five of the old TVs and I had the rookies come over: Take the new one’s up, bring the old ones down, and had ‘em working for me out there at the house. It was pretty funny to see these young kids running in an out, big strong young guys and just putting them to work.

A young Perkins worked his hardest during practice the following season. When the Celtics drafted the 6’10" Al Jefferson at No. 15 in the 2004 NBA draft, Boston not only added a promising frontcourt talent, but a sparring partner for Big Perk.

MCCARTY: They used to go at it. Perk went at it with everybody.

DOC RIVERS, CELTICS HEAD COACH (2004-13): They played tons of 1-on-1. There were many times where you actually contemplated stopping it because you’re like, “One of these guys is gonna get hurt.” That’s how physical it was.

CLIFFORD RAY, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2005-10): They really had some good battles. I thought Al made Perk better, because he was such a prolific scorer. We used to call him Buckets. He used to say, ‘Yea, coach. I just get buckets!’ Al Jefferson has tremendous ability. He had a God given gift. Perk was the opposite. He was a true center. When I look at Perk, he was always our best defender. If someone was going to come down the middle, he would be there. He knew when to go for the shot block and when to take the charge.

RIVERS: Perk and Al were just trying to find themselves. Al was the offensive guy. I think that actually helped Perk a lot. It helped him define a role early in his career.

YOUNG: His role was more of an enforcer.

The Celtics were still rebuilding around Pierce during the 2006-07 season, but began to play with the edge of a playoff contender. When Boston visited the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 11 that winter, Perkins displayed his burgeoning reputation as a defensive anchor.

TOM THIBODEAU, CELTICS ASSISTANT COACH (2007-10): Perk really starred in his role and his role really was to do a lot of the dirty work.

JAMES: He was always throwing his lip up and frowning. He was angry.

GERALD GREEN, CELTICS GUARD (2005-07): He was the enforcer, so sometimes he might have to make a hard foul.

YOUNG: I remember playing Minnesota and I remember Perk talking a lot of trash to [Kevin Garnett].

JAMES: Kendrick’s not gonna back down from no one. He’s not a punk.

RIVERS: The thing I liked about Perk was he didn’t care that you were KG or Kobe or Michael or whoever it was. He was convinced that you couldn’t score on him. He always made the comment, “You may be great, but not tonight.” I used to love it. I thought it really irritated star players.

KEVIN GARNETT, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES FORWARD (1995-2007): We had obviously clashed and had numerous occasions where we banged a little bit. When you’re older and the big dog, you got little pups and stuff wanting to come at you night in and night out. It always got me going. It always motivated me.

PIERCE: They almost got into a fight.

YOUNG: I don’t remember exactly what happened postgame, but there was a little—there wasn't any physical altercation—but there was some verbal altercation between the two.

Big Three Era

Perkins’s barking still rang in Garnett’s ears when Minnesota and Boston discussed a blockbuster trade on draft night that June. The Celtics remained firm: Boston would only exchange Jefferson and a horde of other assets if Garnett agreed to a contract extension. Talks regained steam in July, with Boston having already acquired sharpshooting, All-Star guard Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics. This time, before ultimately signing, Garnett phoned Pierce.

PIERCE: Kevin was like, “What’s up with Perk? Is he gonna want to fight me when I come to the team?”

GARNETT, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-13): I asked Paul, not really concerned but I just wanted to come into it, handle whatever we needed to handle.

PIERCE: I was like, “Man, you don’t even know how much he look up to you.” Kevin couldn’t believe it.

GARNETT: We sat and we talked. The first day I got there, we were like best friends. Once we got on the same page, man, we were off and running. I’m not gonna take anybody that doesn’t want to work. I don’t like people who complained. I don’t like people who don’t have a work ethic. I don’t do quitters. I wanted to see how he worked on his own. Perk was just similar to me. We were grinders, kind of physical specimens.

PIERCE: It was like seeing a big brother look out for his little brother—take him out to the backyard, let’s go play catch—it looked like that.

RAY ALLEN, CELTICS (2007-12): When we got there, KG, it really gave him somebody that he can see and kind of look up to. When he got to see KG work, he had somebody that was always going to communicate with him, somebody that was always gonna have his back. He started emulating what KG was.

PIERCE: Kevin inspired a lot of the kids in the league that came out of high school.

AINGE: I think they had a mutual admiration for each other, because both of those guys were 100% team guys and both of those guys were hard-working, tough-minded. That’s why they hit it off so quick. It’s tough to win KG over. I don’t think it took Perk very long at all before he had KG’s respect.

RIVERS: I do remember the first practice. The trash talking. It was really the second unit vs. the first unit. It was distracting. It was literally 30 minutes into the first practice that we ever had and Eddie House and James Posey and that group decided that they weren’t going to take any crap from the first unit.

JAMES POSEY, CELTICS FORWARD (2007-08): It was intense, being that was the first start of our journey, having a chance and thinking we could win it all.

RIVERS: I had to blow the whistle two or three times and just tell ‘em, “Either you can play, or you can talk. The first group is able to do both. But the guys that can’t, shut up!”

ALLEN: We were a bunch of A-type personality guys.

GARNETT: We got into arguments, we got into fights, we wrestled. We were a team full of barbarians. We were like 300. It was us against the world, straight out. If you ask anybody from that team, we felt like we were straight up warriors and straight up Greek gods and goddesses and all this other shit.

MIKE ZARREN, CELTICS ASSISTANT GM: That group just worked great together. Everybody understood what their role was. Kevin preferred to play 4, rather than 5. He loved to have Perk around to take the brunt of the banging with other big buys. Perk was happy to do that as well.

GARNETT: We were responsible for talking, if not calling out defenses as far as strategies, coverages and stuff like that. Doc put that responsibility on us. We were both decent passers. Him and I, we gelled quicker on the court, as far as basketball, more than anybody else.

PERKINS: When [KG] first got [to Boston]: “Hey listen, me and you, we gonna anchor the defense, we’re gonna set screens and get Paul and Ray open, and when I hit you with the pass, make sure you be ready to finish.”

MIKE GORMAN, CSNNE CELTICS PLAY-BY-PLAY: I always thought that a lot of KG’s bravado was backed up by the fact that, if you looked immediately over his right-hand shoulder, Perk was standing there. I always thought Perk was kind of the man behind the myth there. He had a cop standing right behind him to take care of business if things didn’t work out.

THIBODEAU: He was obviously a big part of the championship team. A very hard guy to score against and offensively, probably didn’t get enough credit for setting great screens and being real active.

Boston indeed claimed the 2008 title that June, in six games over the Los Angeles Lakers. As the Celtics contended for the championship over the next three years, Perkins emerged from Garnett’s tutelage as the consummate professional.

PIERCE: He’ll sacrifice anything for his teammates. He’ll give you the last chair at breakfast, he’ll make sure the younger guys are alright. To earn respect, you have to give respect, and that’s what Perkins is.

GARNETT: If you know anything about his upbringing, he had a pretty tough upbringing, lost his moms. He became a breadwinner in the house very early, learned a lot of different things from different people.

PERKINS: Your upbringing plays a major part in how you act as a person. I’m just a guy where, if I’m with you, I’m all the way with you. They’re ain’t no half and half. If I’m with you, I’ma ride with you til the end.

GREEN: Sometimes Perk was the incredible Hulk, sometimes he was the teddy bear. Perk bought me so much stuff, man. My rookie year he took me shopping. We went to L.A. and there was a guy named Faruk. He used to always have jeans and stuff. Perk bought me, like, four or five outfits.

MARQUIS DANIELS, CELTICS GUARD (2009-12): There were other guys that didn’t have their car in town yet and he’s like, “Here you can borrow my car. You can come to my house and eat.” Or he’d take them out to eat.

BILL WALKER, CELTICS FORWARD (2008-10): He would always call me when we were on the road to hang out with him. We'd go for food and he would just tell me stories about how to prepare and how to work. He always was encouraging and always willing to help me break down things on film to get better.

BRIAN SCALABRINE, CELTICS FORWARD (2006-10): He still remembers my kids' names and I haven’t played with Perk in over six years and, at the time, my kids were 2 and just a newborn.

After falling short in 2009, the Celtics returned to the Finals in 2010. Boston carried a 3-2 lead back to Los Angeles for Games 6 and 7 against the Lakers. Just under seven minutes into Game 6, Perkins crashed to the floor after battling for a rebound.

TONY ALLEN, CELTICS GUARD (2004-10): [Perk] was one of the best centers in the league before his injury.

ZARREN: The moment it happened on the court, his knee didn’t move in a way that was awful. You see some nasty knee injuries, that wasn’t one, in terms of how it looked live or watching replays.

ALLEN: I was scared for him, for his health and safety. And then I was scared for our ability to win an NBA championship after that because I thought, “How could we win it without him?”

AINGE: It was tough to see him go down.

ZARREN: He came back to the locker room and by the time we got down there it was pretty clear it was a significant knee injury. Everyone was just crying in the locker room.

RIVERS: For me, it more was emotional that Perk wouldn’t have the chance to play in that Game 7.

ZARREN: We had played pretty well with Rasheed [Wallace] playing that year.

RAY ALLEN: We just had to try and steal one more game.

RIVERS: It actually showed the value of Perk quite a bit. It took away our enforcer. Kevin had to spend half the game trying to be that and play and I thought that took a lot out of him.

DANIELS: I think he made a huge difference between us having a ring that year and not getting one.

PERKINS: Defense wasn’t the problem, it was who wanted it the most. And I actually think they went and took it from us.

ZARREN: There’s a certain swagger about Perk that he brought to that team. Who knows how the next game would have gone if Perk had played? The losing still hurts so bad. None of us, I’m sure Perk included, will ever get over that game.

Testing proved Perkins tore his right ACL, forcing him to rehab for the majority of the following season. After Perkins played just 12 games for the Celtics in 2011, Boston re-evaluated the future of their frontcourt and set its sights on Oklahoma City swingman Jeff Green, ultimately dealing Perkins for him at the trade deadline.

PERKINS: I cried.

AINGE: It was very difficult. I loved him. We sort of raised him. We just knew that he was going to be very expensive. He became so expensive to Oklahoma City that they had to move [James] Harden.

ZARREN: There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when we agreed to that trade.

RIVERS: I would say in the years that I’ve coached, it was the hardest trade for me. It was the hardest reaction that I’ve ever seen in a locker room as a coach. There were literally tears in the locker room. It was almost like a death.

ALLEN: I was hurting for him, because I knew where his heart was. I knew he had only played for one team his whole career. He wanted what everybody else wanted. He wanted to be compensated, he wanted to make enough money so he could take care of his family.

DANIELS: It’s like, “Man, we lost a key component to our team. He’s like a brother.”

RIVERS: That starting lineup, [when healthy] has never lost a playoff series.

GARNETT: I wish Danny Ainge would have paid attention to that.

Thunder Buddies

Perkins inked a four-year, $36 million contract extension with the Thunder that March. With OKC fresh off its first playoff appearance in 2010, Perkins’s arrival perfectly preceded a deep playoff run. The Thunder reached the conference finals in 2011 and the Finals in 2012. OKC never missed the postseason during Perkins’s tenure.

BOUTTE: He was hurt when he first went to Oklahoma, but him being such a good teammate, he was the perfect person for the organization at the time.

PERKINS: I watched how [Garnett] worked, I watched how he operated, I watched his leadership skills and I just took it all in and brought it to my next stop.

PIERCE: That’s the reason you saw Perkins wore No. 5 [Garnett’s number in Boston] when he went to Oklahoma City.

NICK COLLISON, THUNDER FORWARD: We were starting to play in playoff series. A lot of us hadn’t had much experience there, so I think he was great for us at that time. He really deserves a lot of credit for the success we’ve had over the years.

PERKINS: Our first shootaround, I came in and [Durant and Westbrook] was laughing and joking and I was like, “Ay man, listen up. Lock in.” I remember them kind of barking back and got into an argument. But we ain’t have no problems ever since.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, THUNDER GUARD: He didn’t hold nothing back. If he saw something that would help our team, he’d let you know.

RONNIE BREWER, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): The mentality our Thunder team had, you’re not going to push us around, he did that.

ANTHONY MORROW, THUNDER GUARD (2014-17): He knew how to connect with different guys in just a couple words to light a fire under him and get him going. It was definitely unique to see that.

ANDRE ROBERSON, THUNDER GUARD: His house was always open.

WESTBROOK: People would come by, just chill, enjoy each other’s company, maybe watch a game or some boxing, whatever was on TV that day.

REGGIE JACKSON, THUNDER GUARD (2011-15): I had times where Perk showed up to my house just because he could tell I had a bad week. It was perfect timing, it was the right words, it just kept me chugging along.

COLLISON: The big thing with him is that he always had a good feel on where collectively the morale was.

CARON BUTLER, THUNDER FORWARD (2014): Late night, he’d send texts like after a tough loss. He couldn’t sleep. He’d text you at two, three in the morning. “How you doing? Damn, man. What you see out there?”

THABO SEFOLOSHA, THUNDER FORWARD (2008-14): It was always about how we can improve, things we can do better, things that we did well that night, keeping it up.

WESTBROOK: If I had a bad game, he’d call. If I had a good game, he’d call. I know if I needed to call somebody at 3, 4 in the morning, he’s always gonna be up to answer the phone regardless of what’s going on. That’s what makes him special. It’s not just one time, it’s not once a week, it’s all the time.

GARNETT: I taught him how to communicate.

PERKINS: Everybody who has my phone, they can call me anytime. If I’m up, I’ll answer it. There was a time, KD was struggling mentally and he just called me. Russell went down. Even before he started getting into the chatter about the MVP conversation. I was telling him, ‘Hey man, you’re the MVP. You can do this.”

SERGE IBAKA, THUNDER FORWARD (2009-16): On the bench, off the bench, he’s going to talk. He loves to talk, use his voice, to get your confidence up when your confidence is down.

STEVEN ADAMS, THUNDER CENTER: He did give me some advice, but it seems a bit brutish: “Go out and make sure you hit this guy.”

JACKSON: Everybody always sees the persona of him, just this mean guy on the court, but off of the court he’s this big teddy bear.

DEANDRE LIGGINS, THUNDER GUARD (2012-13): When I got to OKC, I went to the store for him. He gave me this big lump sum for no reason. Like, “Go to Starbucks for me and get some coffee,” and he gave me like $1,000 and told me to keep the change.

BUTLER: He was always honest in film. [In the 2014 playoffs, down 2-1 to Memphis], we ended up winning that and going to the Western Conference finals just because of the conversation that he led in [a] film session.

PERKINS: I told KD he was the best player in the league and he needed to act like it.

SEFOLOSHA: It was real intense. Our backs were against the wall and he knew what we needed to do. The message got through to everybody.

WESTBROOK: He wanted to have a man-to-man type of speech, and I think that was something we needed as a group and our entire defense to buckle down.

ADAMS: That’s why people like him and that’s why a lot of teams want him around. Nobody gets away with anything, he makes sure you’re honest and do whatever your job is.

The Last Chapter

As the 2014-15 season approached its midway point, Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti schemed to surround Durant and Westbrook with younger, more malleable frontcourt talent. The Thunder bid Perkins farewell in exchange for Utah forward Enes Kanter in a three-team trade. The Jazz ultimately waived Perkins, opening the door for another shot at a title.

THIBODEAU, CHICAGO BULLS HEAD COACH (2010-2015): I talked to him about coming to Chicago.

RIVERS: There is no better guy to have on your team to help facilitate roles to the other teammates than Perk.

PERKINS: I felt like Cleveland was the best in the East and they would have the easiest walk to the Finals. That’s what made me choose. It was hard turning down Doc and Thibs, but I had to.

DAVID BLATT, CAVALIERS HEAD COACH (2014-16): Getting Perk at the time frame that we did was great for us. We had a good locker room, but Perk is another strong voice and experienced leader.

POSEY, CAVALIERS ASSISTANT COACH: A couple times, he got the guys together from afar, like, “Yo, this some bullshit. We out there bullshitting around, we fucking around. We got a good opportunity. Pick this shit up.” He looked at people in the face. Pointing ‘em out. “Come on! What you gonna do? What we gonna do?” Everybody, they got the point, they got the message.

PERKINS: They was looking at me like, “What the fuck?” I was just letting them know I was all in.

J.R. SMITH, CAVALIERS GUARD: Right around 78, 79 games, something like that, he was telling everybody, “This is a tough ride, we about to buckle down.”

IMAN SHUMPERT, CAVALIERS GUARD: Perk is unbelievable with keeping his mind set on what the bigger picture is.

JAMES JONES, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-17): He’s really all about business when it’s time for business. He doesn’t hold back. If it’s LeBron, if it’s a rookie, if it’s a coach, if it’s the GM, he’ll point ‘em out if it’s not the right thing. He just holds everyone accountable regardless of position or status.

PERKINS: Bron, he took a backseat and let me be a leader. He was letting me talk a lot—pregame speeches—and they gave me a voice right off the bat.

MIKE MILLER, CAVALIERS GUARD (2014-15): He is to me, one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had and I only had him for half a year.

Perkins departed Cleveland after its championship loss to Golden State for the New Orleans Pelicans and a chance to mentor Anthony Davis in 2015-16.

DANTE CUNNINGHAM, PELICANS FORWARD: He would’ve been a [veteran] that I wanted to have coming in. Just his knowledge of the game, his knowledge off the court, just how personable he is, just making sure that you’re doing well not only as a player but as a person.

ALVIN GENTRY, PELICANS HEAD COACH: The great thing about it was that Anthony has a lot of respect for him. It wasn’t unlike Perk to challenge him in a lot of situations and have Anthony respond to it. It was a good relationship. They did everything together. They spent a lot of time talking, even during the games, Perk was pulling him to the side and saying certain things to him.

PERKINS: I got a chance to play with a lot of future Hall of Famers and I don’t take that for granted one day.

At 32 years old, Perkins texted Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue to rejoin Cleveland for training camp after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign. He'd been training three times a day back in Houston. The Cavs didn’t hesitate welcoming him back into their locker room. Perkins seems like a natural fit on a team full of veterans, focused solely on a championship. Although a roster crunch could ultimately end his career, many expect Perkins to have a long tenure coaching in the NBA. Regardless of his future, he’s left a lasting imprint on the league.

PERKINS: I’d love to coach when I finish playing one day. I know a lot of GMs that value my knowledge of the game. I would have a lot of options. I probably would call up Oklahoma City.

PIERCE: Perk is probably one of the last of the old school vets that learned from the older guys in the way of giving back to the young guys. That’s just the type of person he is. You see that big scowl on his face, he look all mean on the court, but off the court, all his teammates love him.

GARNETT: I love him. That’s my real life brother, man. We have a super strong connection. That bond will never be broken and I’d do anything for ‘em.

WESTBROOK: He’s one of the most unselfish guys I know, just willing to sacrifice to help other people out.

RIVERS: He’s a sunshine guy. There’s guys who bring sunshine. He’s one of those guys.

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2017, file photo, Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant poses for photos during the NBA basketball team's media day in Oakland , Calif. Beginning his 11th NBA season at age 29 and fresh off his first career championship, Durant is as determined as ever. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, FIle)

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2017, file photo, Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant poses for photos during the NBA basketball team's media day in Oakland , Calif. Beginning his 11th NBA season at age 29 and fresh off his first career championship, Durant is as determined as ever. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, FIle)

FILE - In this June 15, 2017, file photo, Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant holds the NBA Finals MVP trophy during a parade and rally celebrating the Warriors' NBA basketball championship in Oakland, Calif. Beginning his 11th NBA season at age 29 and fresh off his first career championship, Durant is as determined as ever. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

FILE - In this June 15, 2017, file photo, Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant holds the NBA Finals MVP trophy during a parade and rally celebrating the Warriors' NBA basketball championship in Oakland, Calif. Beginning his 11th NBA season at age 29 and fresh off his first career championship, Durant is as determined as ever. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

FILE - In this June 1, 2017, file pool photo, Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) dunks in front of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the first half of Game 1 of basketball's NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif. Beginning his 11th NBA season at age 29 and fresh off his first career championship, Durant is as determined as ever. (Ezra Shaw/Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE - In this June 1, 2017, file pool photo, Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) dunks in front of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the first half of Game 1 of basketball's NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif. Beginning his 11th NBA season at age 29 and fresh off his first career championship, Durant is as determined as ever. (Ezra Shaw/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Kevin Durant Season Preview

Reigning NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant will be looking to help the Golden State Warriors continue their dynasty this season.

Kevin Durant Season Preview

Reigning NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant will be looking to help the Golden State Warriors continue their dynasty this season.

Kevin Durant Season Preview

Reigning NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant will be looking to help the Golden State Warriors continue their dynasty this season.

Roger Goodell’s Wife Had a Kevin Durant-Style Twitter Account to Defend Her Husband

The Wall Street Journal just found the one person on Twitter who doesn’t hate Roger Goodell: his wife.

Until very recently, Jane Skinner Goodell had an online alter ego—@forargument on Twitter. As the name would indicate, the account was created specifically to defend the honor of everyone’s favorite incompetent empty suit. Whenever members of the media deigned to crack wise about the Protector of the Shield or go against the NFL’s preferred narrative, @forargument was there to set them straight.

The Journal was able to deduce who was behind the account thanks in part to the accounts it followed (some related to the Goodells’ children’s school, for instance) and Mrs. Goodell copped to being the author when asked.

“It was a REALLY silly thing to do and done out of frustration—and love,” she said in a statement. “As a former media member, I’m always bothered when the coverage doesn’t provide a complete and accurate picture of a story. I’m also a wife and a mom. I have always passionately defended the hard-working guy I love—and I always will. I just may not use Twitter to do so in the future!”

Admittedly, this is actually very sweet. With the exception of her tweet calling Journal columnist Jason Gay “immature,” Mrs. Goodell appears to have been fairly civil with her clapbacks. Watching people constantly mock the man you love must be tough, so you can’t blame her for wanting to fight back. Her only mistake was blurring the line between her secret account account for talking smack and her account for following her kids’ school. I have a feeling she’ll be back online soon with another account, but with a better strategy for staying in the shadows.

Top 15 NBA small forwards for 2017-18: Has Kevin Durant finally surpassed LeBron James?

LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the top two players in the NBA, but who stands alone at No. 1? SN's Sean Deveney breaks down the league's best small forwards.

Top 15 NBA small forwards for 2017-18: Has Kevin Durant finally surpassed LeBron James?

Top 15 NBA small forwards for 2017-18: Has Kevin Durant finally surpassed LeBron James?

Top 15 NBA small forwards for 2017-18: Has Kevin Durant finally surpassed LeBron James?

LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the top two players in the NBA, but who stands alone at No. 1? SN's Sean Deveney breaks down the league's best small forwards.

Top 15 NBA small forwards for 2017-18: Has Kevin Durant finally surpassed LeBron James?

LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the top two players in the NBA, but who stands alone at No. 1? SN's Sean Deveney breaks down the league's best small forwards.

Isaiah Thomas: 'Best Year of My Career, Worst Year of My Life'

A green-and-gray mini basketball sits on a bed of sand-colored rocks next to the pool in the backyard. The ball belongs to five-year-old Jaiden Thomas, son of Isaiah Thomas, whose name and image grace the side of it. Jaiden brought the ball from Boston to Cleveland, a reminder that his father used to play for the Celtics and played so well they sold souvenirs with his picture on them. Jaiden’s family does not have a hoop at their new home in Westlake, Ohio, a two-story brick traditional with a circular driveway framed by oak trees. So if they want to shoot, they cross the quiet street to the Strong residence. “Excuse me,” Isaiah said, when he first knocked on the Strongs’ front door one overcast afternoon in late September. “Can we use your hoop?”

Joyce Strong laughed because nobody had put a ball through that rusted rim since her daughter, Terry, moved out a couple decades ago. And she apologized because at some point a snow plow rammed the black stanchion, knocking the basket slightly off-center. “That sounds perfect,” Isaiah replied. As he and Jaiden fired jumpers from the Strongs’ cement slab, Joyce and her husband took stock of their affable new neighbors. “I think that’s the point guard the Cavs just got,” Tom said, looking for the local newspaper to provide confirmation. “I don’t know,” Joyce responded. “Isn’t he too small?”

For six years NBA officials asked the same question, until last season, when Thomas provided a definitive answer. No, he is not too small, and yes, the Kings were foolish to bench him and the Suns senseless to trade him and others irresponsible to overlook him. At 5'9", Thomas averaged the most points in the Eastern Conference, putting up totals Kyrie Irving would envy: 41 against Detroit and Portland, 44 against Toronto and Memphis, 52 against Miami and 53 against Washington. The Wizards outburst came in the second round of the playoffs, six weeks after Thomas injured his hip at TD Garden, when he attempted a layup over four Timberwolves and 7-foot center Karl-Anthony Towns crashed down on top of him. But the Celtics were scrapping for the No. 1 seed in the East. Thomas wanted to play. Then his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, died in a car accident on April 15, the day before Game 1 of the first round. Thomas needed to play.

“Hoop is what lets me forget about everything else,” Thomas says. “The court was the only place I felt comfortable. At home, I’d just sit around and think about my sister, which hurt. On the floor, I was free. Emotionally, I wasn’t even there.” Cortisone provided anesthetic for the hip, basketball for the heart. Numb all over, Thomas kept fighting around triple teams and hurtling through 7-footers until the East finals, when he couldn’t push off his right foot or cross over anybody.

So much intrigue has unfolded since: interminable doctor’s appointments, physical-therapy sessions, MRIs. Thomas was traded from Boston to Cleveland, and then he wasn’t, and then he was. His hip became the most scrutinized body part since Donald Trump’s hands. At his house in the Seattle woods, he tried to mourn his sister’s death with family and friends, but peace was elusive. For the first time, it seemed, no one questioned his height and everyone his health.

Thomas won’t play on opening night against the Celtics and there’s a chance he won’t even play on Christmas Day against the Warriors, but his presence will loom over this entire NBA season, casting a shadow longer than his frame. If Thomas comes back at full strength from a torn labrum in his right hip—and the date doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s before April—the Cavaliers will be deeper and tougher than ever, a lock for the Finals and a threat to the Warriors. But if Thomas returns a lesser version of himself, the Celtics have a chance and the Dubs a repeat. “Something crazy is going to happen again,” Thomas says, “because that’s how it always goes with me.”

The Trade—Irving to the Celtics; Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Nets’ first-round pick next year and the Heat’s second-round pick in 2020 to the Cavs—was preposterous enough, on multiple levels. For one thing, players don’t ask to leave LeBron James, as Irving did. For another, conference rivals don’t swap franchise point guards, especially when one of those floor generals is a happy and loved 28-year-old who played through injury and grief while recruiting landmark free agents in successive summers. “None of it made any sense,” Thomas says. “It still doesn’t make any sense. I’m still asking, ‘What the hell happened?’ It’s a trade you make in NBA2K. It’s not a trade you make in real life.”

Four days after the deal was first agreed upon, Thomas flew to Las Vegas for the Floyd Mayweather–Conor McGregor bout. Thomas has been close to Mayweather since 2011, when they met at a training session in Vegas and went to a Robin Thicke concert. Thomas sat in Mayweather’s locker room at T-Mobile Arena as trainers wrapped the champ’s hands for McGregor. “What the hell is going on?” Mayweather asked. Thomas had just completed a physical, a formality to finalize the trade, but Cavaliers doctors came away concerned Thomas would miss more time than originally anticipated. Mayweather used his final minutes of fight prep to query his friend.

“I left Cleveland, everybody was excited, everybody was on board,” Thomas explains. “Then I get off the plane in Vegas and there are all these stories about my hip. People were looking at me like I had one leg.” His 2017, which started with so much promise, was ending with so much pain. “Best year of my career,” Thomas says, “worst year of my life.” At the fight, he sat a row in front of Warriors forward Draymond Green, two second-round picks made good. From Green’s perspective, the uncertainty surrounding Thomas was not strange. It was standard. “This,” he said, “is your story.”

In February 2012, as a rookie drafted 60th overall, Thomas was the Kings’ starting point guard. “That summer,” he begins, “they brought in Aaron Brooks.” He won back the job by January. “That summer, they traded for Greivis Vasquez.” He regained his spot by December. “That summer, they didn’t even offer me a contract.” Five teams expressed interest in Thomas, who had averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in his third season with the Kings, but he signed with the first one he visited. Even though Phoenix already employed point guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Thomas felt wanted, a foreign sensation. “I should have waited,” he admits. “I fell into it.” Seven months later, the Suns sent him to Boston at the trade deadline, 10 minutes after they shipped Dragic to Miami. “Boston?” Thomas said to himself when he heard the news on the team bus. “Not Boston.”

The Celtics were rebuilding, but Thomas expedited the project. Not only did he become a back-to-back All-Star, one year he wooed free agent Al Horford on a trip to Atlanta and the next he lured Gordon Hayward over a dinner in Boston. “We made the Celtics cool again,” Thomas says. His older son, James, advised him as recently as July: “You should play with LeBron. You should sign with Cleveland.”
“Stop that,” Thomas hushed. “We’re trying to beat Cleveland!” When Thomas scored 53 points against Washington, he took a moment at the free throw line to savor the Garden’s MVP chants. “Damn,” he thought, “this is everything I wanted.”

It lasted 10 days. In Game 6, the Wizards leveled him with a sledgehammer screen and his right leg throbbed. Effects of the pre–playoff cortisone shot had waned. “I never felt pain like that,” Thomas winces. After an agonizing flight home to Boston, he put up 29 and 12 in a Game 7 triumph to the amazement of Celtics doctors. “I don’t know how you’re doing this,” one marveled. The stakes were too high to sit. Perhaps they were also too high to play.

Five months have passed and Thomas rises from his kitchen table to stretch his right hip. “No doubt about it, I should have sat out the playoffs,” he says. “No way around it, I made it worse.” After Game 2 of the East finals, the Celtics shut down Thomas, and he braced for surgery. “I thought I’d get it done in a couple days and start rehab,” he recounts. Thomas went to New York City for an appointment with Bryan Kelly, a leading orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery and an expert in hip preservation. According to Thomas, Kelly prescribed rest rather than surgery and asked him to return for another MRI in six weeks, when inflammation diminished. Thomas, a regular at Seattle’s renowned pick-up runs, wasn’t even allowed to shoot with Jamal Crawford.

On July 18, Thomas underwent another MRI in New York, attended by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge and team officials. Thomas wasn’t recovering as quickly as he’d hoped, but he left New York encouraged. “It was a good appointment,” he recalls. “Dr. Kelly told me I should continue to rest it.” The Celtics dispatched a physical therapist to Seattle to work with Thomas twice a day in August. He knew Irving wanted out of Cleveland. He had no warning he might be involved.

Sacramento and Phoenix, Aaron Brooks and Eric Bledsoe, provided an early education in the business of basketball. But they could not prepare Thomas for Aug. 22. He has wracked his brain for reasons the Celtics moved him, having been assured performance and personality were not among them. Ainge acknowledged that Thomas’s health played a role, as did his contract. By any normal measure, Thomas is richly compensated at $6.2 million this year, but in the NBA he is a dime-store steal who finally reaches free agency next summer. The irony, of course, is that Thomas jeopardized both health and earning potential while playing hurt for the Celtics.

“I’ve been looking at this wall for five hours,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens texted Thomas after the trade, “trying to figure out what to say to you.” When Sacramento let Thomas walk in 2014, he left town telling himself, “F--- Sacramento. I’m about to kill those dudes.” When Phoenix exiled him the following winter, he pledged, “O.K., now they’re gonna get it.” But there will be no revenge tour this time. “Boston is going to be all love,” he vows, with one exception. “I might not ever talk to Danny again. That might not happen. I’ll talk to everybody else. But what he did, knowing everything I went through, you don’t do that, bro. That’s not right. I’m not saying eff you. But every team in this situation comes out a year or two later and says, ‘We made a mistake.’ That’s what they’ll say, too.”

The trade sat in transactional purgatory for a week as the Cavs investigated Thomas’s hip. They knew he would miss games. They needed to gauge how many. Meanwhile, reports circulated with outside doctors drawing foreboding comparisons with other cases. “They hadn’t even seen one of my MRIs, and they were acting like I was damaged, like this might ruin my career,” Thomas says. “I’m not damaged, I’m just injured. But mentally it messed with me. You don’t know what the Celtics are saying to save their ass or what the Cavs are saying for leverage.” Thomas called Kelly and asked, “Am I missing something? Is there something I should know?” The doctor tried to calm him, citing other patients with more severe conditions who returned to all-NBA levels.

The Cavaliers squeezed another pick out of the Celtics, the 2020 second-rounder, an attempt to mitigate some risk. They wanted to bet on Thomas, but they couldn’t be sure when he will heal or how he will perform. In truth, they still can’t. They are far more optimistic, though, than when they first acquired him. Thomas is working out six days a week, running on an AlterG antigravity treadmill and doing defensive slides in the pool. When the Cavs practice, he lifts, and when they lift, he hits the court. He drains one-dribble pull-up jumpers. Shuttling side-to-side remains a challenge. According to Thomas, the inflammation and bone bruise in his hip are actually more restrictive than the torn labrum, which some athletes are able to endure without much hindrance.

From New York, Kelly confers with Cavaliers doctors about treatment plans and rehab schedules. Thomas wants to beat the organization’s timetable, late December or early January, and his wife recently caught him sleeping with a basketball at night. But he can’t apply the pressure on himself that he did before. He wears a pair of sandals with slow printed over his left foot, grind over his right. The sandals are purple, the color of his Washington Huskies, one team that couldn’t trade him.

“The nice thing about the Cavs is nobody is in a rush,” Thomas says. “Most places are trying to get you back, which isn’t always best for you. These guys know they’re going to play in June. It’s a given.” When Thomas went from Phoenix to Boston two years ago, he got a call from his namesake, who informed him he’d been upgraded. When he went from Boston to Cleveland, Isiah Thomas rang again, with a similar message: “Every time you fall down, you always get up, and the situation is better than you thought it would be.”

He may need a few more conversations to be convinced. “I felt like I was building my own thing in Boston and we were close,” Thomas laments. “We were so close! Dang! That’s what hurts. We went from the lottery to the conference finals. We just got Hayward. We were right there. Think of all the national TV games we were about to have.” He slaps his side. But he also recognizes that his son James, the LeBron fan, had legitimate reasons for pushing Cleveland. “I get to be with the best player in the world now,” Thomas says. “I’ll only have one guy on me. All the double and triple teams will be on 23.”

Before training camp, the Cavaliers convened in Santa Barbara and Thomas reminisced with Kevin Love about their old AAU squad in Portland, United Salad. “Horrible name,” Thomas cracks, “great team.” Love, who used to host Thomas for pregame sleepovers, told his friend in so many words that the salad days are here again. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is already drawing up sets for Thomas and Love, Thomas and LeBron. Isaiah visualizes Oracle Arena, a Finals MVP trophy in his arms and a max contract on the way. Men who are 5'9" don’t make the NBA without king-sized confidence. “I just gotta get healthy and show the world again,” Thomas says. “That’s not a question for me. It’s only a question for everybody else.”

Thomas always believed the Celtics matched up better with Golden State than they did Cleveland, but Eastern bedrocks have shifted and identities have changed. The C’s are more skilled than they used to be, the Cavs more defiant. “Boston is going to be good,” Thomas predicts. “They’ve got really good players and a great coach. But it takes more than talent. They lost a lot of heart and soul.” Thomas is limited on defense, but the same goes for Irving. Crowder helps cover gaps, a sticky wing the Cavs could have used on Kevin Durant last June, allowing LeBron to roam.

Celtics coaches still text Thomas, checking on him. The first couple of weeks in Cleveland were awkward, when the family was staying at The 9 hotel downtown, in the midst of the Indians’ 22-game winning streak. Jaiden was starting kindergarten and fireworks kept exploding outside his window after bedtime. “Is it always like this?” wondered Thomas’s wife, Kayla. But by mid-September they were ensconced in tranquil Westlake, neighbors dropping off cupcakes and Kayla reciprocating with candles. Jaiden, who spent the past two years in a Cambridge apartment, scooted around the neighborhood with new friends he called his bros. “If they’re happy,” Thomas says, “I’m happy.”

Make no mistake, however, the Thomases are renting. “We were about to buy a place in Boston,” Isaiah laughs. “We won’t ever do that again.” He is understandably wary of NBA politics and power brokers. But he trusts Dr. Kelly—even though he has asked a half-dozen times if he should have undergone the operation—and Aaron Goodwin, the agent who is advising him. If Thomas does not fully recover, he can always get the surgery as a last resort. “My career is a fight,” Thomas says. “I’m not a regular superstar where whatever happens, it’s all right. Every day is a fight. I need people who understand that fight.” Basketball’s smallest heavyweight pauses to consider where his bout stands.

“Oh, we’re only in the middle rounds,” he declares. “I’m playing till I’m 40.”

Isaiah Thomas: 'Best Year of My Career, Worst Year of My Life'

A green-and-gray mini basketball sits on a bed of sand-colored rocks next to the pool in the backyard. The ball belongs to five-year-old Jaiden Thomas, son of Isaiah Thomas, whose name and image grace the side of it. Jaiden brought the ball from Boston to Cleveland, a reminder that his father used to play for the Celtics and played so well they sold souvenirs with his picture on them. Jaiden’s family does not have a hoop at their new home in Westlake, Ohio, a two-story brick traditional with a circular driveway framed by oak trees. So if they want to shoot, they cross the quiet street to the Strong residence. “Excuse me,” Isaiah said, when he first knocked on the Strongs’ front door one overcast afternoon in late September. “Can we use your hoop?”

Joyce Strong laughed because nobody had put a ball through that rusted rim since her daughter, Terry, moved out a couple decades ago. And she apologized because at some point a snow plow rammed the black stanchion, knocking the basket slightly off-center. “That sounds perfect,” Isaiah replied. As he and Jaiden fired jumpers from the Strongs’ cement slab, Joyce and her husband took stock of their affable new neighbors. “I think that’s the point guard the Cavs just got,” Tom said, looking for the local newspaper to provide confirmation. “I don’t know,” Joyce responded. “Isn’t he too small?”

For six years NBA officials asked the same question, until last season, when Thomas provided a definitive answer. No, he is not too small, and yes, the Kings were foolish to bench him and the Suns senseless to trade him and others irresponsible to overlook him. At 5'9", Thomas averaged the most points in the Eastern Conference, putting up totals Kyrie Irving would envy: 41 against Detroit and Portland, 44 against Toronto and Memphis, 52 against Miami and 53 against Washington. The Wizards outburst came in the second round of the playoffs, six weeks after Thomas injured his hip at TD Garden, when he attempted a layup over four Timberwolves and 7-foot center Karl-Anthony Towns crashed down on top of him. But the Celtics were scrapping for the No. 1 seed in the East. Thomas wanted to play. Then his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, died in a car accident on April 15, the day before Game 1 of the first round. Thomas needed to play.

“Hoop is what lets me forget about everything else,” Thomas says. “The court was the only place I felt comfortable. At home, I’d just sit around and think about my sister, which hurt. On the floor, I was free. Emotionally, I wasn’t even there.” Cortisone provided anesthetic for the hip, basketball for the heart. Numb all over, Thomas kept fighting around triple teams and hurtling through 7-footers until the East finals, when he couldn’t push off his right foot or cross over anybody.

So much intrigue has unfolded since: interminable doctor’s appointments, physical-therapy sessions, MRIs. Thomas was traded from Boston to Cleveland, and then he wasn’t, and then he was. His hip became the most scrutinized body part since Donald Trump’s hands. At his house in the Seattle woods, he tried to mourn his sister’s death with family and friends, but peace was elusive. For the first time, it seemed, no one questioned his height and everyone his health.

Thomas won’t play on opening night against the Celtics and there’s a chance he won’t even play on Christmas Day against the Warriors, but his presence will loom over this entire NBA season, casting a shadow longer than his frame. If Thomas comes back at full strength from a torn labrum in his right hip—and the date doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s before April—the Cavaliers will be deeper and tougher than ever, a lock for the Finals and a threat to the Warriors. But if Thomas returns a lesser version of himself, the Celtics have a chance and the Dubs a repeat. “Something crazy is going to happen again,” Thomas says, “because that’s how it always goes with me.”

The Trade—Irving to the Celtics; Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Nets’ first-round pick next year and the Heat’s second-round pick in 2020 to the Cavs—was preposterous enough, on multiple levels. For one thing, players don’t ask to leave LeBron James, as Irving did. For another, conference rivals don’t swap franchise point guards, especially when one of those floor generals is a happy and loved 28-year-old who played through injury and grief while recruiting landmark free agents in successive summers. “None of it made any sense,” Thomas says. “It still doesn’t make any sense. I’m still asking, ‘What the hell happened?’ It’s a trade you make in NBA2K. It’s not a trade you make in real life.”

Four days after the deal was first agreed upon, Thomas flew to Las Vegas for the Floyd Mayweather–Conor McGregor bout. Thomas has been close to Mayweather since 2011, when they met at a training session in Vegas and went to a Robin Thicke concert. Thomas sat in Mayweather’s locker room at T-Mobile Arena as trainers wrapped the champ’s hands for McGregor. “What the hell is going on?” Mayweather asked. Thomas had just completed a physical, a formality to finalize the trade, but Cavaliers doctors came away concerned Thomas would miss more time than originally anticipated. Mayweather used his final minutes of fight prep to query his friend.

“I left Cleveland, everybody was excited, everybody was on board,” Thomas explains. “Then I get off the plane in Vegas and there are all these stories about my hip. People were looking at me like I had one leg.” His 2017, which started with so much promise, was ending with so much pain. “Best year of my career,” Thomas says, “worst year of my life.” At the fight, he sat a row in front of Warriors forward Draymond Green, two second-round picks made good. From Green’s perspective, the uncertainty surrounding Thomas was not strange. It was standard. “This,” he said, “is your story.”

In February 2012, as a rookie drafted 60th overall, Thomas was the Kings’ starting point guard. “That summer,” he begins, “they brought in Aaron Brooks.” He won back the job by January. “That summer, they traded for Greivis Vasquez.” He regained his spot by December. “That summer, they didn’t even offer me a contract.” Five teams expressed interest in Thomas, who had averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in his third season with the Kings, but he signed with the first one he visited. Even though Phoenix already employed point guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Thomas felt wanted, a foreign sensation. “I should have waited,” he admits. “I fell into it.” Seven months later, the Suns sent him to Boston at the trade deadline, 10 minutes after they shipped Dragic to Miami. “Boston?” Thomas said to himself when he heard the news on the team bus. “Not Boston.”

The Celtics were rebuilding, but Thomas expedited the project. Not only did he become a back-to-back All-Star, one year he wooed free agent Al Horford on a trip to Atlanta and the next he lured Gordon Hayward over a dinner in Boston. “We made the Celtics cool again,” Thomas says. His older son, James, advised him as recently as July: “You should play with LeBron. You should sign with Cleveland.”
“Stop that,” Thomas hushed. “We’re trying to beat Cleveland!” When Thomas scored 53 points against Washington, he took a moment at the free throw line to savor the Garden’s MVP chants. “Damn,” he thought, “this is everything I wanted.”

It lasted 10 days. In Game 6, the Wizards leveled him with a sledgehammer screen and his right leg throbbed. Effects of the pre–playoff cortisone shot had waned. “I never felt pain like that,” Thomas winces. After an agonizing flight home to Boston, he put up 29 and 12 in a Game 7 triumph to the amazement of Celtics doctors. “I don’t know how you’re doing this,” one marveled. The stakes were too high to sit. Perhaps they were also too high to play.

Five months have passed and Thomas rises from his kitchen table to stretch his right hip. “No doubt about it, I should have sat out the playoffs,” he says. “No way around it, I made it worse.” After Game 2 of the East finals, the Celtics shut down Thomas, and he braced for surgery. “I thought I’d get it done in a couple days and start rehab,” he recounts. Thomas went to New York City for an appointment with Bryan Kelly, a leading orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery and an expert in hip preservation. According to Thomas, Kelly prescribed rest rather than surgery and asked him to return for another MRI in six weeks, when inflammation diminished. Thomas, a regular at Seattle’s renowned pick-up runs, wasn’t even allowed to shoot with Jamal Crawford.

On July 18, Thomas underwent another MRI in New York, attended by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge and team officials. Thomas wasn’t recovering as quickly as he’d hoped, but he left New York encouraged. “It was a good appointment,” he recalls. “Dr. Kelly told me I should continue to rest it.” The Celtics dispatched a physical therapist to Seattle to work with Thomas twice a day in August. He knew Irving wanted out of Cleveland. He had no warning he might be involved.

Sacramento and Phoenix, Aaron Brooks and Eric Bledsoe, provided an early education in the business of basketball. But they could not prepare Thomas for Aug. 22. He has wracked his brain for reasons the Celtics moved him, having been assured performance and personality were not among them. Ainge acknowledged that Thomas’s health played a role, as did his contract. By any normal measure, Thomas is richly compensated at $6.2 million this year, but in the NBA he is a dime-store steal who finally reaches free agency next summer. The irony, of course, is that Thomas jeopardized both health and earning potential while playing hurt for the Celtics.

“I’ve been looking at this wall for five hours,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens texted Thomas after the trade, “trying to figure out what to say to you.” When Sacramento let Thomas walk in 2014, he left town telling himself, “F--- Sacramento. I’m about to kill those dudes.” When Phoenix exiled him the following winter, he pledged, “O.K., now they’re gonna get it.” But there will be no revenge tour this time. “Boston is going to be all love,” he vows, with one exception. “I might not ever talk to Danny again. That might not happen. I’ll talk to everybody else. But what he did, knowing everything I went through, you don’t do that, bro. That’s not right. I’m not saying eff you. But every team in this situation comes out a year or two later and says, ‘We made a mistake.’ That’s what they’ll say, too.”

The trade sat in transactional purgatory for a week as the Cavs investigated Thomas’s hip. They knew he would miss games. They needed to gauge how many. Meanwhile, reports circulated with outside doctors drawing foreboding comparisons with other cases. “They hadn’t even seen one of my MRIs, and they were acting like I was damaged, like this might ruin my career,” Thomas says. “I’m not damaged, I’m just injured. But mentally it messed with me. You don’t know what the Celtics are saying to save their ass or what the Cavs are saying for leverage.” Thomas called Kelly and asked, “Am I missing something? Is there something I should know?” The doctor tried to calm him, citing other patients with more severe conditions who returned to all-NBA levels.

The Cavaliers squeezed another pick out of the Celtics, the 2020 second-rounder, an attempt to mitigate some risk. They wanted to bet on Thomas, but they couldn’t be sure when he will heal or how he will perform. In truth, they still can’t. They are far more optimistic, though, than when they first acquired him. Thomas is working out six days a week, running on an AlterG antigravity treadmill and doing defensive slides in the pool. When the Cavs practice, he lifts, and when they lift, he hits the court. He drains one-dribble pull-up jumpers. Shuttling side-to-side remains a challenge. According to Thomas, the inflammation and bone bruise in his hip are actually more restrictive than the torn labrum, which some athletes are able to endure without much hindrance.

From New York, Kelly confers with Cavaliers doctors about treatment plans and rehab schedules. Thomas wants to beat the organization’s timetable, late December or early January, and his wife recently caught him sleeping with a basketball at night. But he can’t apply the pressure on himself that he did before. He wears a pair of sandals with slow printed over his left foot, grind over his right. The sandals are purple, the color of his Washington Huskies, one team that couldn’t trade him.

“The nice thing about the Cavs is nobody is in a rush,” Thomas says. “Most places are trying to get you back, which isn’t always best for you. These guys know they’re going to play in June. It’s a given.” When Thomas went from Phoenix to Boston two years ago, he got a call from his namesake, who informed him he’d been upgraded. When he went from Boston to Cleveland, Isiah Thomas rang again, with a similar message: “Every time you fall down, you always get up, and the situation is better than you thought it would be.”

He may need a few more conversations to be convinced. “I felt like I was building my own thing in Boston and we were close,” Thomas laments. “We were so close! Dang! That’s what hurts. We went from the lottery to the conference finals. We just got Hayward. We were right there. Think of all the national TV games we were about to have.” He slaps his side. But he also recognizes that his son James, the LeBron fan, had legitimate reasons for pushing Cleveland. “I get to be with the best player in the world now,” Thomas says. “I’ll only have one guy on me. All the double and triple teams will be on 23.”

Before training camp, the Cavaliers convened in Santa Barbara and Thomas reminisced with Kevin Love about their old AAU squad in Portland, United Salad. “Horrible name,” Thomas cracks, “great team.” Love, who used to host Thomas for pregame sleepovers, told his friend in so many words that the salad days are here again. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is already drawing up sets for Thomas and Love, Thomas and LeBron. Isaiah visualizes Oracle Arena, a Finals MVP trophy in his arms and a max contract on the way. Men who are 5'9" don’t make the NBA without king-sized confidence. “I just gotta get healthy and show the world again,” Thomas says. “That’s not a question for me. It’s only a question for everybody else.”

Thomas always believed the Celtics matched up better with Golden State than they did Cleveland, but Eastern bedrocks have shifted and identities have changed. The C’s are more skilled than they used to be, the Cavs more defiant. “Boston is going to be good,” Thomas predicts. “They’ve got really good players and a great coach. But it takes more than talent. They lost a lot of heart and soul.” Thomas is limited on defense, but the same goes for Irving. Crowder helps cover gaps, a sticky wing the Cavs could have used on Kevin Durant last June, allowing LeBron to roam.

Celtics coaches still text Thomas, checking on him. The first couple of weeks in Cleveland were awkward, when the family was staying at The 9 hotel downtown, in the midst of the Indians’ 22-game winning streak. Jaiden was starting kindergarten and fireworks kept exploding outside his window after bedtime. “Is it always like this?” wondered Thomas’s wife, Kayla. But by mid-September they were ensconced in tranquil Westlake, neighbors dropping off cupcakes and Kayla reciprocating with candles. Jaiden, who spent the past two years in a Cambridge apartment, scooted around the neighborhood with new friends he called his bros. “If they’re happy,” Thomas says, “I’m happy.”

Make no mistake, however, the Thomases are renting. “We were about to buy a place in Boston,” Isaiah laughs. “We won’t ever do that again.” He is understandably wary of NBA politics and power brokers. But he trusts Dr. Kelly—even though he has asked a half-dozen times if he should have undergone the operation—and Aaron Goodwin, the agent who is advising him. If Thomas does not fully recover, he can always get the surgery as a last resort. “My career is a fight,” Thomas says. “I’m not a regular superstar where whatever happens, it’s all right. Every day is a fight. I need people who understand that fight.” Basketball’s smallest heavyweight pauses to consider where his bout stands.

“Oh, we’re only in the middle rounds,” he declares. “I’m playing till I’m 40.”

Isaiah Thomas: 'Best Year of My Career, Worst Year of My Life'

A green-and-gray mini basketball sits on a bed of sand-colored rocks next to the pool in the backyard. The ball belongs to five-year-old Jaiden Thomas, son of Isaiah Thomas, whose name and image grace the side of it. Jaiden brought the ball from Boston to Cleveland, a reminder that his father used to play for the Celtics and played so well they sold souvenirs with his picture on them. Jaiden’s family does not have a hoop at their new home in Westlake, Ohio, a two-story brick traditional with a circular driveway framed by oak trees. So if they want to shoot, they cross the quiet street to the Strong residence. “Excuse me,” Isaiah said, when he first knocked on the Strongs’ front door one overcast afternoon in late September. “Can we use your hoop?”

Joyce Strong laughed because nobody had put a ball through that rusted rim since her daughter, Terry, moved out a couple decades ago. And she apologized because at some point a snow plow rammed the black stanchion, knocking the basket slightly off-center. “That sounds perfect,” Isaiah replied. As he and Jaiden fired jumpers from the Strongs’ cement slab, Joyce and her husband took stock of their affable new neighbors. “I think that’s the point guard the Cavs just got,” Tom said, looking for the local newspaper to provide confirmation. “I don’t know,” Joyce responded. “Isn’t he too small?”

For six years NBA officials asked the same question, until last season, when Thomas provided a definitive answer. No, he is not too small, and yes, the Kings were foolish to bench him and the Suns senseless to trade him and others irresponsible to overlook him. At 5'9", Thomas averaged the most points in the Eastern Conference, putting up totals Kyrie Irving would envy: 41 against Detroit and Portland, 44 against Toronto and Memphis, 52 against Miami and 53 against Washington. The Wizards outburst came in the second round of the playoffs, six weeks after Thomas injured his hip at TD Garden, when he attempted a layup over four Timberwolves and 7-foot center Karl-Anthony Towns crashed down on top of him. But the Celtics were scrapping for the No. 1 seed in the East. Thomas wanted to play. Then his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, died in a car accident on April 15, the day before Game 1 of the first round. Thomas needed to play.

“Hoop is what lets me forget about everything else,” Thomas says. “The court was the only place I felt comfortable. At home, I’d just sit around and think about my sister, which hurt. On the floor, I was free. Emotionally, I wasn’t even there.” Cortisone provided anesthetic for the hip, basketball for the heart. Numb all over, Thomas kept fighting around triple teams and hurtling through 7-footers until the East finals, when he couldn’t push off his right foot or cross over anybody.

So much intrigue has unfolded since: interminable doctor’s appointments, physical-therapy sessions, MRIs. Thomas was traded from Boston to Cleveland, and then he wasn’t, and then he was. His hip became the most scrutinized body part since Donald Trump’s hands. At his house in the Seattle woods, he tried to mourn his sister’s death with family and friends, but peace was elusive. For the first time, it seemed, no one questioned his height and everyone his health.

Thomas won’t play on opening night against the Celtics and there’s a chance he won’t even play on Christmas Day against the Warriors, but his presence will loom over this entire NBA season, casting a shadow longer than his frame. If Thomas comes back at full strength from a torn labrum in his right hip—and the date doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s before April—the Cavaliers will be deeper and tougher than ever, a lock for the Finals and a threat to the Warriors. But if Thomas returns a lesser version of himself, the Celtics have a chance and the Dubs a repeat. “Something crazy is going to happen again,” Thomas says, “because that’s how it always goes with me.”

The Trade—Irving to the Celtics; Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Nets’ first-round pick next year and the Heat’s second-round pick in 2020 to the Cavs—was preposterous enough, on multiple levels. For one thing, players don’t ask to leave LeBron James, as Irving did. For another, conference rivals don’t swap franchise point guards, especially when one of those floor generals is a happy and loved 28-year-old who played through injury and grief while recruiting landmark free agents in successive summers. “None of it made any sense,” Thomas says. “It still doesn’t make any sense. I’m still asking, ‘What the hell happened?’ It’s a trade you make in NBA2K. It’s not a trade you make in real life.”

Four days after the deal was first agreed upon, Thomas flew to Las Vegas for the Floyd Mayweather–Conor McGregor bout. Thomas has been close to Mayweather since 2011, when they met at a training session in Vegas and went to a Robin Thicke concert. Thomas sat in Mayweather’s locker room at T-Mobile Arena as trainers wrapped the champ’s hands for McGregor. “What the hell is going on?” Mayweather asked. Thomas had just completed a physical, a formality to finalize the trade, but Cavaliers doctors came away concerned Thomas would miss more time than originally anticipated. Mayweather used his final minutes of fight prep to query his friend.

“I left Cleveland, everybody was excited, everybody was on board,” Thomas explains. “Then I get off the plane in Vegas and there are all these stories about my hip. People were looking at me like I had one leg.” His 2017, which started with so much promise, was ending with so much pain. “Best year of my career,” Thomas says, “worst year of my life.” At the fight, he sat a row in front of Warriors forward Draymond Green, two second-round picks made good. From Green’s perspective, the uncertainty surrounding Thomas was not strange. It was standard. “This,” he said, “is your story.”

In February 2012, as a rookie drafted 60th overall, Thomas was the Kings’ starting point guard. “That summer,” he begins, “they brought in Aaron Brooks.” He won back the job by January. “That summer, they traded for Greivis Vasquez.” He regained his spot by December. “That summer, they didn’t even offer me a contract.” Five teams expressed interest in Thomas, who had averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in his third season with the Kings, but he signed with the first one he visited. Even though Phoenix already employed point guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Thomas felt wanted, a foreign sensation. “I should have waited,” he admits. “I fell into it.” Seven months later, the Suns sent him to Boston at the trade deadline, 10 minutes after they shipped Dragic to Miami. “Boston?” Thomas said to himself when he heard the news on the team bus. “Not Boston.”

The Celtics were rebuilding, but Thomas expedited the project. Not only did he become a back-to-back All-Star, one year he wooed free agent Al Horford on a trip to Atlanta and the next he lured Gordon Hayward over a dinner in Boston. “We made the Celtics cool again,” Thomas says. His older son, James, advised him as recently as July: “You should play with LeBron. You should sign with Cleveland.”
“Stop that,” Thomas hushed. “We’re trying to beat Cleveland!” When Thomas scored 53 points against Washington, he took a moment at the free throw line to savor the Garden’s MVP chants. “Damn,” he thought, “this is everything I wanted.”

It lasted 10 days. In Game 6, the Wizards leveled him with a sledgehammer screen and his right leg throbbed. Effects of the pre–playoff cortisone shot had waned. “I never felt pain like that,” Thomas winces. After an agonizing flight home to Boston, he put up 29 and 12 in a Game 7 triumph to the amazement of Celtics doctors. “I don’t know how you’re doing this,” one marveled. The stakes were too high to sit. Perhaps they were also too high to play.

Five months have passed and Thomas rises from his kitchen table to stretch his right hip. “No doubt about it, I should have sat out the playoffs,” he says. “No way around it, I made it worse.” After Game 2 of the East finals, the Celtics shut down Thomas, and he braced for surgery. “I thought I’d get it done in a couple days and start rehab,” he recounts. Thomas went to New York City for an appointment with Bryan Kelly, a leading orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery and an expert in hip preservation. According to Thomas, Kelly prescribed rest rather than surgery and asked him to return for another MRI in six weeks, when inflammation diminished. Thomas, a regular at Seattle’s renowned pick-up runs, wasn’t even allowed to shoot with Jamal Crawford.

On July 18, Thomas underwent another MRI in New York, attended by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge and team officials. Thomas wasn’t recovering as quickly as he’d hoped, but he left New York encouraged. “It was a good appointment,” he recalls. “Dr. Kelly told me I should continue to rest it.” The Celtics dispatched a physical therapist to Seattle to work with Thomas twice a day in August. He knew Irving wanted out of Cleveland. He had no warning he might be involved.

Sacramento and Phoenix, Aaron Brooks and Eric Bledsoe, provided an early education in the business of basketball. But they could not prepare Thomas for Aug. 22. He has wracked his brain for reasons the Celtics moved him, having been assured performance and personality were not among them. Ainge acknowledged that Thomas’s health played a role, as did his contract. By any normal measure, Thomas is richly compensated at $6.2 million this year, but in the NBA he is a dime-store steal who finally reaches free agency next summer. The irony, of course, is that Thomas jeopardized both health and earning potential while playing hurt for the Celtics.

“I’ve been looking at this wall for five hours,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens texted Thomas after the trade, “trying to figure out what to say to you.” When Sacramento let Thomas walk in 2014, he left town telling himself, “F--- Sacramento. I’m about to kill those dudes.” When Phoenix exiled him the following winter, he pledged, “O.K., now they’re gonna get it.” But there will be no revenge tour this time. “Boston is going to be all love,” he vows, with one exception. “I might not ever talk to Danny again. That might not happen. I’ll talk to everybody else. But what he did, knowing everything I went through, you don’t do that, bro. That’s not right. I’m not saying eff you. But every team in this situation comes out a year or two later and says, ‘We made a mistake.’ That’s what they’ll say, too.”

The trade sat in transactional purgatory for a week as the Cavs investigated Thomas’s hip. They knew he would miss games. They needed to gauge how many. Meanwhile, reports circulated with outside doctors drawing foreboding comparisons with other cases. “They hadn’t even seen one of my MRIs, and they were acting like I was damaged, like this might ruin my career,” Thomas says. “I’m not damaged, I’m just injured. But mentally it messed with me. You don’t know what the Celtics are saying to save their ass or what the Cavs are saying for leverage.” Thomas called Kelly and asked, “Am I missing something? Is there something I should know?” The doctor tried to calm him, citing other patients with more severe conditions who returned to all-NBA levels.

The Cavaliers squeezed another pick out of the Celtics, the 2020 second-rounder, an attempt to mitigate some risk. They wanted to bet on Thomas, but they couldn’t be sure when he will heal or how he will perform. In truth, they still can’t. They are far more optimistic, though, than when they first acquired him. Thomas is working out six days a week, running on an AlterG antigravity treadmill and doing defensive slides in the pool. When the Cavs practice, he lifts, and when they lift, he hits the court. He drains one-dribble pull-up jumpers. Shuttling side-to-side remains a challenge. According to Thomas, the inflammation and bone bruise in his hip are actually more restrictive than the torn labrum, which some athletes are able to endure without much hindrance.

From New York, Kelly confers with Cavaliers doctors about treatment plans and rehab schedules. Thomas wants to beat the organization’s timetable, late December or early January, and his wife recently caught him sleeping with a basketball at night. But he can’t apply the pressure on himself that he did before. He wears a pair of sandals with slow printed over his left foot, grind over his right. The sandals are purple, the color of his Washington Huskies, one team that couldn’t trade him.

“The nice thing about the Cavs is nobody is in a rush,” Thomas says. “Most places are trying to get you back, which isn’t always best for you. These guys know they’re going to play in June. It’s a given.” When Thomas went from Phoenix to Boston two years ago, he got a call from his namesake, who informed him he’d been upgraded. When he went from Boston to Cleveland, Isiah Thomas rang again, with a similar message: “Every time you fall down, you always get up, and the situation is better than you thought it would be.”

He may need a few more conversations to be convinced. “I felt like I was building my own thing in Boston and we were close,” Thomas laments. “We were so close! Dang! That’s what hurts. We went from the lottery to the conference finals. We just got Hayward. We were right there. Think of all the national TV games we were about to have.” He slaps his side. But he also recognizes that his son James, the LeBron fan, had legitimate reasons for pushing Cleveland. “I get to be with the best player in the world now,” Thomas says. “I’ll only have one guy on me. All the double and triple teams will be on 23.”

Before training camp, the Cavaliers convened in Santa Barbara and Thomas reminisced with Kevin Love about their old AAU squad in Portland, United Salad. “Horrible name,” Thomas cracks, “great team.” Love, who used to host Thomas for pregame sleepovers, told his friend in so many words that the salad days are here again. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is already drawing up sets for Thomas and Love, Thomas and LeBron. Isaiah visualizes Oracle Arena, a Finals MVP trophy in his arms and a max contract on the way. Men who are 5'9" don’t make the NBA without king-sized confidence. “I just gotta get healthy and show the world again,” Thomas says. “That’s not a question for me. It’s only a question for everybody else.”

Thomas always believed the Celtics matched up better with Golden State than they did Cleveland, but Eastern bedrocks have shifted and identities have changed. The C’s are more skilled than they used to be, the Cavs more defiant. “Boston is going to be good,” Thomas predicts. “They’ve got really good players and a great coach. But it takes more than talent. They lost a lot of heart and soul.” Thomas is limited on defense, but the same goes for Irving. Crowder helps cover gaps, a sticky wing the Cavs could have used on Kevin Durant last June, allowing LeBron to roam.

Celtics coaches still text Thomas, checking on him. The first couple of weeks in Cleveland were awkward, when the family was staying at The 9 hotel downtown, in the midst of the Indians’ 22-game winning streak. Jaiden was starting kindergarten and fireworks kept exploding outside his window after bedtime. “Is it always like this?” wondered Thomas’s wife, Kayla. But by mid-September they were ensconced in tranquil Westlake, neighbors dropping off cupcakes and Kayla reciprocating with candles. Jaiden, who spent the past two years in a Cambridge apartment, scooted around the neighborhood with new friends he called his bros. “If they’re happy,” Thomas says, “I’m happy.”

Make no mistake, however, the Thomases are renting. “We were about to buy a place in Boston,” Isaiah laughs. “We won’t ever do that again.” He is understandably wary of NBA politics and power brokers. But he trusts Dr. Kelly—even though he has asked a half-dozen times if he should have undergone the operation—and Aaron Goodwin, the agent who is advising him. If Thomas does not fully recover, he can always get the surgery as a last resort. “My career is a fight,” Thomas says. “I’m not a regular superstar where whatever happens, it’s all right. Every day is a fight. I need people who understand that fight.” Basketball’s smallest heavyweight pauses to consider where his bout stands.

“Oh, we’re only in the middle rounds,” he declares. “I’m playing till I’m 40.”

Isaiah Thomas: 'Best Year of My Career, Worst Year of My Life'

A green-and-gray mini basketball sits on a bed of sand-colored rocks next to the pool in the backyard. The ball belongs to five-year-old Jaiden Thomas, son of Isaiah Thomas, whose name and image grace the side of it. Jaiden brought the ball from Boston to Cleveland, a reminder that his father used to play for the Celtics and played so well they sold souvenirs with his picture on them. Jaiden’s family does not have a hoop at their new home in Westlake, Ohio, a two-story brick traditional with a circular driveway framed by oak trees. So if they want to shoot, they cross the quiet street to the Strong residence. “Excuse me,” Isaiah said, when he first knocked on the Strongs’ front door one overcast afternoon in late September. “Can we use your hoop?”

Joyce Strong laughed because nobody had put a ball through that rusted rim since her daughter, Terry, moved out a couple decades ago. And she apologized because at some point a snow plow rammed the black stanchion, knocking the basket slightly off-center. “That sounds perfect,” Isaiah replied. As he and Jaiden fired jumpers from the Strongs’ cement slab, Joyce and her husband took stock of their affable new neighbors. “I think that’s the point guard the Cavs just got,” Tom said, looking for the local newspaper to provide confirmation. “I don’t know,” Joyce responded. “Isn’t he too small?”

For six years NBA officials asked the same question, until last season, when Thomas provided a definitive answer. No, he is not too small, and yes, the Kings were foolish to bench him and the Suns senseless to trade him and others irresponsible to overlook him. At 5'9", Thomas averaged the most points in the Eastern Conference, putting up totals Kyrie Irving would envy: 41 against Detroit and Portland, 44 against Toronto and Memphis, 52 against Miami and 53 against Washington. The Wizards outburst came in the second round of the playoffs, six weeks after Thomas injured his hip at TD Garden, when he attempted a layup over four Timberwolves and 7-foot center Karl-Anthony Towns crashed down on top of him. But the Celtics were scrapping for the No. 1 seed in the East. Thomas wanted to play. Then his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, died in a car accident on April 15, the day before Game 1 of the first round. Thomas needed to play.

“Hoop is what lets me forget about everything else,” Thomas says. “The court was the only place I felt comfortable. At home, I’d just sit around and think about my sister, which hurt. On the floor, I was free. Emotionally, I wasn’t even there.” Cortisone provided anesthetic for the hip, basketball for the heart. Numb all over, Thomas kept fighting around triple teams and hurtling through 7-footers until the East finals, when he couldn’t push off his right foot or cross over anybody.

So much intrigue has unfolded since: interminable doctor’s appointments, physical-therapy sessions, MRIs. Thomas was traded from Boston to Cleveland, and then he wasn’t, and then he was. His hip became the most scrutinized body part since Donald Trump’s hands. At his house in the Seattle woods, he tried to mourn his sister’s death with family and friends, but peace was elusive. For the first time, it seemed, no one questioned his height and everyone his health.

Thomas won’t play on opening night against the Celtics and there’s a chance he won’t even play on Christmas Day against the Warriors, but his presence will loom over this entire NBA season, casting a shadow longer than his frame. If Thomas comes back at full strength from a torn labrum in his right hip—and the date doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s before April—the Cavaliers will be deeper and tougher than ever, a lock for the Finals and a threat to the Warriors. But if Thomas returns a lesser version of himself, the Celtics have a chance and the Dubs a repeat. “Something crazy is going to happen again,” Thomas says, “because that’s how it always goes with me.”

The Trade—Irving to the Celtics; Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Nets’ first-round pick next year and the Heat’s second-round pick in 2020 to the Cavs—was preposterous enough, on multiple levels. For one thing, players don’t ask to leave LeBron James, as Irving did. For another, conference rivals don’t swap franchise point guards, especially when one of those floor generals is a happy and loved 28-year-old who played through injury and grief while recruiting landmark free agents in successive summers. “None of it made any sense,” Thomas says. “It still doesn’t make any sense. I’m still asking, ‘What the hell happened?’ It’s a trade you make in NBA2K. It’s not a trade you make in real life.”

Four days after the deal was first agreed upon, Thomas flew to Las Vegas for the Floyd Mayweather–Conor McGregor bout. Thomas has been close to Mayweather since 2011, when they met at a training session in Vegas and went to a Robin Thicke concert. Thomas sat in Mayweather’s locker room at T-Mobile Arena as trainers wrapped the champ’s hands for McGregor. “What the hell is going on?” Mayweather asked. Thomas had just completed a physical, a formality to finalize the trade, but Cavaliers doctors came away concerned Thomas would miss more time than originally anticipated. Mayweather used his final minutes of fight prep to query his friend.

“I left Cleveland, everybody was excited, everybody was on board,” Thomas explains. “Then I get off the plane in Vegas and there are all these stories about my hip. People were looking at me like I had one leg.” His 2017, which started with so much promise, was ending with so much pain. “Best year of my career,” Thomas says, “worst year of my life.” At the fight, he sat a row in front of Warriors forward Draymond Green, two second-round picks made good. From Green’s perspective, the uncertainty surrounding Thomas was not strange. It was standard. “This,” he said, “is your story.”

In February 2012, as a rookie drafted 60th overall, Thomas was the Kings’ starting point guard. “That summer,” he begins, “they brought in Aaron Brooks.” He won back the job by January. “That summer, they traded for Greivis Vasquez.” He regained his spot by December. “That summer, they didn’t even offer me a contract.” Five teams expressed interest in Thomas, who had averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in his third season with the Kings, but he signed with the first one he visited. Even though Phoenix already employed point guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Thomas felt wanted, a foreign sensation. “I should have waited,” he admits. “I fell into it.” Seven months later, the Suns sent him to Boston at the trade deadline, 10 minutes after they shipped Dragic to Miami. “Boston?” Thomas said to himself when he heard the news on the team bus. “Not Boston.”

The Celtics were rebuilding, but Thomas expedited the project. Not only did he become a back-to-back All-Star, one year he wooed free agent Al Horford on a trip to Atlanta and the next he lured Gordon Hayward over a dinner in Boston. “We made the Celtics cool again,” Thomas says. His older son, James, advised him as recently as July: “You should play with LeBron. You should sign with Cleveland.”
“Stop that,” Thomas hushed. “We’re trying to beat Cleveland!” When Thomas scored 53 points against Washington, he took a moment at the free throw line to savor the Garden’s MVP chants. “Damn,” he thought, “this is everything I wanted.”

It lasted 10 days. In Game 6, the Wizards leveled him with a sledgehammer screen and his right leg throbbed. Effects of the pre–playoff cortisone shot had waned. “I never felt pain like that,” Thomas winces. After an agonizing flight home to Boston, he put up 29 and 12 in a Game 7 triumph to the amazement of Celtics doctors. “I don’t know how you’re doing this,” one marveled. The stakes were too high to sit. Perhaps they were also too high to play.

Five months have passed and Thomas rises from his kitchen table to stretch his right hip. “No doubt about it, I should have sat out the playoffs,” he says. “No way around it, I made it worse.” After Game 2 of the East finals, the Celtics shut down Thomas, and he braced for surgery. “I thought I’d get it done in a couple days and start rehab,” he recounts. Thomas went to New York City for an appointment with Bryan Kelly, a leading orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery and an expert in hip preservation. According to Thomas, Kelly prescribed rest rather than surgery and asked him to return for another MRI in six weeks, when inflammation diminished. Thomas, a regular at Seattle’s renowned pick-up runs, wasn’t even allowed to shoot with Jamal Crawford.

On July 18, Thomas underwent another MRI in New York, attended by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge and team officials. Thomas wasn’t recovering as quickly as he’d hoped, but he left New York encouraged. “It was a good appointment,” he recalls. “Dr. Kelly told me I should continue to rest it.” The Celtics dispatched a physical therapist to Seattle to work with Thomas twice a day in August. He knew Irving wanted out of Cleveland. He had no warning he might be involved.

Sacramento and Phoenix, Aaron Brooks and Eric Bledsoe, provided an early education in the business of basketball. But they could not prepare Thomas for Aug. 22. He has wracked his brain for reasons the Celtics moved him, having been assured performance and personality were not among them. Ainge acknowledged that Thomas’s health played a role, as did his contract. By any normal measure, Thomas is richly compensated at $6.2 million this year, but in the NBA he is a dime-store steal who finally reaches free agency next summer. The irony, of course, is that Thomas jeopardized both health and earning potential while playing hurt for the Celtics.

“I’ve been looking at this wall for five hours,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens texted Thomas after the trade, “trying to figure out what to say to you.” When Sacramento let Thomas walk in 2014, he left town telling himself, “F--- Sacramento. I’m about to kill those dudes.” When Phoenix exiled him the following winter, he pledged, “O.K., now they’re gonna get it.” But there will be no revenge tour this time. “Boston is going to be all love,” he vows, with one exception. “I might not ever talk to Danny again. That might not happen. I’ll talk to everybody else. But what he did, knowing everything I went through, you don’t do that, bro. That’s not right. I’m not saying eff you. But every team in this situation comes out a year or two later and says, ‘We made a mistake.’ That’s what they’ll say, too.”

The trade sat in transactional purgatory for a week as the Cavs investigated Thomas’s hip. They knew he would miss games. They needed to gauge how many. Meanwhile, reports circulated with outside doctors drawing foreboding comparisons with other cases. “They hadn’t even seen one of my MRIs, and they were acting like I was damaged, like this might ruin my career,” Thomas says. “I’m not damaged, I’m just injured. But mentally it messed with me. You don’t know what the Celtics are saying to save their ass or what the Cavs are saying for leverage.” Thomas called Kelly and asked, “Am I missing something? Is there something I should know?” The doctor tried to calm him, citing other patients with more severe conditions who returned to all-NBA levels.

The Cavaliers squeezed another pick out of the Celtics, the 2020 second-rounder, an attempt to mitigate some risk. They wanted to bet on Thomas, but they couldn’t be sure when he will heal or how he will perform. In truth, they still can’t. They are far more optimistic, though, than when they first acquired him. Thomas is working out six days a week, running on an AlterG antigravity treadmill and doing defensive slides in the pool. When the Cavs practice, he lifts, and when they lift, he hits the court. He drains one-dribble pull-up jumpers. Shuttling side-to-side remains a challenge. According to Thomas, the inflammation and bone bruise in his hip are actually more restrictive than the torn labrum, which some athletes are able to endure without much hindrance.

From New York, Kelly confers with Cavaliers doctors about treatment plans and rehab schedules. Thomas wants to beat the organization’s timetable, late December or early January, and his wife recently caught him sleeping with a basketball at night. But he can’t apply the pressure on himself that he did before. He wears a pair of sandals with slow printed over his left foot, grind over his right. The sandals are purple, the color of his Washington Huskies, one team that couldn’t trade him.

“The nice thing about the Cavs is nobody is in a rush,” Thomas says. “Most places are trying to get you back, which isn’t always best for you. These guys know they’re going to play in June. It’s a given.” When Thomas went from Phoenix to Boston two years ago, he got a call from his namesake, who informed him he’d been upgraded. When he went from Boston to Cleveland, Isiah Thomas rang again, with a similar message: “Every time you fall down, you always get up, and the situation is better than you thought it would be.”

He may need a few more conversations to be convinced. “I felt like I was building my own thing in Boston and we were close,” Thomas laments. “We were so close! Dang! That’s what hurts. We went from the lottery to the conference finals. We just got Hayward. We were right there. Think of all the national TV games we were about to have.” He slaps his side. But he also recognizes that his son James, the LeBron fan, had legitimate reasons for pushing Cleveland. “I get to be with the best player in the world now,” Thomas says. “I’ll only have one guy on me. All the double and triple teams will be on 23.”

Before training camp, the Cavaliers convened in Santa Barbara and Thomas reminisced with Kevin Love about their old AAU squad in Portland, United Salad. “Horrible name,” Thomas cracks, “great team.” Love, who used to host Thomas for pregame sleepovers, told his friend in so many words that the salad days are here again. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is already drawing up sets for Thomas and Love, Thomas and LeBron. Isaiah visualizes Oracle Arena, a Finals MVP trophy in his arms and a max contract on the way. Men who are 5'9" don’t make the NBA without king-sized confidence. “I just gotta get healthy and show the world again,” Thomas says. “That’s not a question for me. It’s only a question for everybody else.”

Thomas always believed the Celtics matched up better with Golden State than they did Cleveland, but Eastern bedrocks have shifted and identities have changed. The C’s are more skilled than they used to be, the Cavs more defiant. “Boston is going to be good,” Thomas predicts. “They’ve got really good players and a great coach. But it takes more than talent. They lost a lot of heart and soul.” Thomas is limited on defense, but the same goes for Irving. Crowder helps cover gaps, a sticky wing the Cavs could have used on Kevin Durant last June, allowing LeBron to roam.

Celtics coaches still text Thomas, checking on him. The first couple of weeks in Cleveland were awkward, when the family was staying at The 9 hotel downtown, in the midst of the Indians’ 22-game winning streak. Jaiden was starting kindergarten and fireworks kept exploding outside his window after bedtime. “Is it always like this?” wondered Thomas’s wife, Kayla. But by mid-September they were ensconced in tranquil Westlake, neighbors dropping off cupcakes and Kayla reciprocating with candles. Jaiden, who spent the past two years in a Cambridge apartment, scooted around the neighborhood with new friends he called his bros. “If they’re happy,” Thomas says, “I’m happy.”

Make no mistake, however, the Thomases are renting. “We were about to buy a place in Boston,” Isaiah laughs. “We won’t ever do that again.” He is understandably wary of NBA politics and power brokers. But he trusts Dr. Kelly—even though he has asked a half-dozen times if he should have undergone the operation—and Aaron Goodwin, the agent who is advising him. If Thomas does not fully recover, he can always get the surgery as a last resort. “My career is a fight,” Thomas says. “I’m not a regular superstar where whatever happens, it’s all right. Every day is a fight. I need people who understand that fight.” Basketball’s smallest heavyweight pauses to consider where his bout stands.

“Oh, we’re only in the middle rounds,” he declares. “I’m playing till I’m 40.”

Anonymous NBA Scouts Preview the Central

Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron is a marvel

LeBron James is such a physical marvel. I think as he ages, he’s going to be more capable of playing different positions, whether it’s as a ballhandling four or a point guard, so he can operate between the free throw lines. There are so many ways you can use him even when he starts to lose a step. . . . Isaiah Thomas can really help them [when he recovers from his hip injury]. He’s infinitely tough, willing to take big shots, but he gets a little exposed in the playoffs because of game-planning and his size. . . . Kevin Love’s year was one of the more underappreciated things last season. The guy was superefficient and as good as he can possibly be defensively. It’s huge having a weapon who can shoot, doesn’t need post ups and is comfortable playing off LeBron. . . . Even if Tristan Thompson wasn’t playing with LeBron, he’d be successful. He had a terrible Finals—there’s no avoiding it—but his spirit is so strong, he’s a warrior and has completely accepted his role coming out of college: as a tough pick-and-roll guy who gets everything he can off the offensive glass. . . . I’ve heard a narrative that Jae Crowder wasn’t good defensively last year, but the guy’s what every team is looking for and on an unbelievable contract [$6.8 million this year]. Now LeBron won’t have to guard, say, Kevin Durant in the Finals. If LeBron stays, Crowder’s still valuable, and if he leaves, he’s a real trade chip. . . . Because he’s accepted that he’s a defensive player and three-point shooter, J.R. Smith is a very valuable guy too. They really have a lot of toughness and shooting on the roster.

Milwaukee Bucks: They have a star in Giannis

They have a star player in Giannis Antetokounmpo and have done a really good job surrounding him with the right kind of guys. You can play Antetokounmpo all over the floor, he can guard all these different positions, and his potential is off the charts. He’s gonna be 23 this year! He has no ceiling, only how he limits himself. If he can become a 33% or 34% three-point shooter, he’s pretty much unguardable. . . . Thon Maker was never Kevin Garnett or Kevin Durant—whoever was saying that was so stupid. But the guy’s big, he cares, he plays hard, and he can probably be a three-point shooter. That’s a win. . . . Malcolm Brogdon is going to play for a long time, but generally you see a Rookie of the Year and say he’s going to be an All-Star or something. I’m not sure that’s the case with him. He might just be in a really good spot as a really good player. He guarded, played tough and is incredibly intelligent. . . . Khris Middleton is one of the more underrated guys in the league, with his size and length and shooting. These two-way wing types are what everyone is looking for. They kind of turned Tony Snell into that, too, and rebooted his career. They can play Antetokounmpo at center and surround him with four 6'5"-plus guys, switch everything and make threes, run and gun. That just gives them so many options. . . . In a playoff game when their offense is sluggish, that’s where Greg Monroe’s value comes in. He’s really tough, he’s really physical, and he’s proved capable of being able to score.

Detroit Pistons: Luke Kennard will succeed

People look at the roster and say they’re trying to replicate what Stan Van Gundy had in Orlando, but that doesn’t take into account how good Hedo Turkoglu was. The Pistons don’t have a frontcourt player like that who can initiate offense and shoot around 40% from three. Jon Leuer’s not that caliber of player. Tobias Harris is more of a scorer and shooter than a playmaker. . . . So much is going to depend on Reggie Jackson. If he’s healthy and they’ve let bygones be bygones, the team can be good. . . . Andre Drummond has potential to be a two-way player—he’s not a zero. If he can get to 50% free throw shooting, continue to be a leading rebounder and be more of a shot blocker, that’s great, because he can move his feet on the perimeter and guard pick-and-rolls. Just don’t throw him the ball on a post up. He’s got to be a roll guy and feast on the offensive glass. . . . Avery Bradley will help them because he’s a more consistent shooter than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. . . . The fact that they traded Marcus Morris is a signal they still have high hopes for Stanley Johnson because of the role he played in the playoffs as a rookie [in 2015–16]. But the clock is ticking. All he has to do to make good money is make open threes and guard. In the past he’s tried to do too much. . . . Stan is so good at putting guys like Luke Kennard in positions to succeed. He’s not strictly a spot-up shooter; he’s a playmaker. They can play him with Langston Galloway, get Galloway running off the ball and let Kennard handle it. There’s a lot of fun ways they can use him.

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls will be... interested

Lauri Markkanen is pretty interesting. He’s 7 feet, he can shoot fast, he has a better handle than he showed at Arizona, and every team in the league is looking for a big guy who can shoot. I mean, Ryan Anderson’s making $20 million a year. Markkanen has his issues, but they’re gonna be able to cover for him a little bit. . . . Zach Lavine benefited from taking a lot of shots last year for a Minnesota team that was bad. Is he a foundation piece? No. But I think they looked at it from the standpoint that he’s 23, he can help us win now and he’s talented enough. At minimum he can be a good defensive player. . . . Does Nikola Mirotic fit what they want to be and do? He’s made 363 threes in three years, and I always thought he had a little more to his game than he’s shown. He was slotted as a three-point shooter early in his career, so that’s what people think he is. . . . Robin Lopez could be a tradable guy at the deadline for a team that wants to play with size in the playoffs or wants to be heavy on the offensive boards. He’s out of place right now given the direction they decided to go. . . . Denzel Valentine is so challenged athletically. Can he be a spot-up three-point shooter? I think so, but it’s hard to see him as a starter on a deep playoff team. . . . They have some pretty good international scouting, and Cristiano Felicio has been a good get for them. He may be a tradable piece too. . . . Bobby Portis is probably a really good three-point-shooting center. That’s what he’s got to start to get his head around.

Indiana Pacers: Does anyone pay attention to Lance?

The Pacers looked at the Paul George trade like, Well, we’ll send the guy to the other conference so we don’t have to play against him this year. But Victor Oladipo will help them. He’s shown us about what we can expect from him. He’s a solid player, a little undersized as a two guard. He gets by on his grit and toughness. . . . They tried to rush Domantas Sabonis in OKC and made him shoot threes—the first two months of the season he didn’t shoot a free throw. It was ridiculous considering his greatest asset at Gonzaga was being around the basket, playing at the elbows. So I think there’s some untapped ability there. . . . This is the year we’re going to find out how good Myles Turner is. Was he a beneficiary of playing with George and other good players, or was he really a heavy participant and driver in their success? . . . With Thaddeus Young and Cory Joseph they have some solid pieces, but they’re going to have to decide which guys to go forward with so they don’t block the progress of ones they believe in. They could trade Young or Joseph or Darren Collison—teams always need backup guards at the deadline. . . . Glenn Robinson III got better last year. He accepted his role and really fought defensively, worked hard and then he made shots. They have to think, O.K., this could be a guy for us going forward. . . . Does anyone pay Lance Stephenson attention anymore? The last time he was good was the year he was trying to get paid, and since then he’s been almost more trouble than he’s worth.

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