He's a household name in Oklahoma City, and with good reason. He played a huge role in the Hornets and Supersonics moves, and has made several appearances in our arena. But that tale has been told millions of times by thousands of bards, and recapping it for you here would satisfy no one.
So, instead, for SB Nation's farewell to David Stern, I'll be taking a look at another time period. One where David Stern was affecting the Thunder in a big way. Of course, I'm referring to the 2011 Lockout.
The lockout was a really scary time for Thunder fans. The team had just gone through a breakout campaign through the Western Conference. From the four seed, they managed to dispatch the Nuggets rather easily, and proved their mettle in a grinding 7 game series with Memphis. The Thunder disappointingly fell short when the Mavericks trampled all over them in the Conference Finals, but everyone knew that their time was nigh. The trio of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden was ready to take the NBA by storm, and it looked as if another year of seasoning might be all they needed for a championship run.
But, all of a sudden, the owners got greedy. It's impossible to judge who was right and who was wrong in the ongoing negotiations between the players and the league, but generally people seemed to think that the owners were crying wolf. They claimed that the more mediocre teams lost money because of the recession, and that players' percentage of Basketball Related Income should be cut. Furthermore, the owners wanted players to stay in college longer, as well as limit their ability to sign long-term deals. Representing the owners was David Stern.
For Oklahoma City fans, this was Stern's first real role as a villain. He was making outrageous demands and kept threatening to terminate what was slated to be the Thunder's best season yet. There was never any sort of organized outrage from the OKC fanbase, but I would like to offer that Stern's holding out ended up doing more good than harm.
Why? Well, the 2011 lockout only saw us lose 1/5th a season, and it really gave us an opportunity to see the Thunder players as men. Where they ended up going and what they ended up doing was a stunning reflection of their personalities.
Kevin Durant, for example, ended up barnstorming the country. He played in countless charity games, tearing up inferior competition and raising money for those in need. You can find a surreal mixtape below.
But barnstorming wasn't the only thing Kevin Durant did. He also found time to play two flag football games, one with local college students and one with LeBron James. He was even in a heartwarming lockout commercial, showcasing obscure OKC locales. It was obvious that this man had itchy feet, and had the lockout gone on much longer, Durant might have signed overseas.
Russell Westbrook followed a totally different route. Instead of starring in the public exhibition games, Russ decided to do most of his training in private, back at his alma mater of UCLA. He did give it one go in the game that was organized in Oklahoma City though, and his highlights are somewhat impressive.
James Harden's path was similar to that of KD's. He starred in several off-season exhibition contests, most notably holding his own against Kevin Durant in the Drew League vs. Goodman League games.
Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha went the international route. Ibaka's journey took him to Spain, where he had played basketball before he was signed by the Thunder in 2009. He logged minutes for Real Madrid, a Eurobasket powerhouse. They used him as a rebounding big, and didn't give him any opportunities away from the rim. Still, his athleticism was imposing, and he made a large impact for the team. Sefolosha took his talents to Turkey, where he spent time with Fenerbahce Ulker. Fenerbache is another Euroleague force to be reckoned with, but Thabo had no trouble contributing. The shorter three point line gave him much greater accuracy, and the weaker interior defense allowed him to take it strong to the hole.
Kendrick Perkins got into the headlines for the wrong reasons, as he was involved in an incident at a night club in his hometown of Beaumont, Texas. According to sources at the time, Perk was surrounded by 50 people and attempting to fight the club's manager. Stephen Jackson was also on the scene and was apparently taken into custody. No charges were filed against Jackson, and Perkins had the charges dropped. However, he made up for it by showing up for training camp 32 pounds lighter, giving everyone false hope that he wouldn't be saddled with injuries next season.
Reggie Jackson, a rookie at the time, never got his first paycheck from the Thunder. He spent his time in Los Angeles, living on a small loan and doing whatever he could to keep costs down. Jackson lived in eternal limbo until the lockout was settled, as he had no source of income and no way of knowing whether he needed to go to Oklahoma City or not.
Other Thunder players weren't as notable, but they did keep busy. Nick Collison conducted a long interview with the Oklahoman, expressing some of his feelings surrounding the lockout. He also took classes at Kansas. Nazr Mohammed was a bit more brash in his emotional expression, admonishing the owners for their greedy ways over social media. Nate Robinson peed outside of a Barnes and Noble, and made overtures about going to the NFL. D.J. White spent time training at his alma mater, Indiana. B.J. Mullens originally committed to playing with a second-division Greek Team, but it didn't work out, and he spent his time playing basketball with local prisoners instead. Royal Ivey used the lockout to finish his degree. Cole Aldrich used the time to run his own basketball camp in his home state of Minnesota. He also spent time in Lawrence, Kansas, shopping with kids for toys and working on finishing his degree.
A lot of what happened gets lost in the shuffle, and 10 years from now this lockout will be little more than a blip on the seismograph of NBA history. But for the Thunder and their fans, I'd argue that the lockout holds something of a place in their heart. It was a great opportunity to glimpse the players we had grown to love under real pressure, and almost all of them made the best of their situation. It's rare that the curtain is pulled back in such a fashion, especially to one of the NBA's hottest teams at their peak.
And who do we have to thank for it? None other than David Stern and his ruthless business savvy.
Farewell, David. Your memory will forever entertain us all.