Oklahoma City’s elimination in Game 7 of the First Round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs marked the end of an era. A rebuild was on the horizon and that final, competitive year was one more final memory. The Thunder’s tear down was on the cards and I had embraced it. I wanted the rebuild.
The Thunder continuing with Paul, Gallinari and Adams would have landed the team in a no man’s land, a state of mediocrity that no team wants to be in. It made perfect sense to start again from ground zero and build a roster that could win a championship in three or four years time. It was so easy to be rational then.
Chris Paul leaving was a little sad but it was not unexpected; the same can be said for Danilo Gallinari. The trade of Steven Adams was the one that really hurt. When I saw the reports that the Pelicans were finalising a trade for Steven, my heart sank.
Steven Adams has been one of the standard bearers for the Thunder for such a long time. He is a tone-setter on and off the court. It is Adams who will sacrifice his body and personal glory for the team, it was rarely anybody else. He is a man without ego on the basketball court and it is Adams’ play that got everybody to buy into the Thunder as a team.
In this last season with the Thunder, we often pointed to Chris Paul’s vocal leadership as a driving force behind Oklahoma City's success. I would argue that Adams had an equally important role. He set a standard with his willingness to work for the team that nobody could ignore.
I will miss him greatly as a player and as a man. Steven Adams represented the Thunder with pride and vigour every single time that he stepped onto the court. The laughing, jovial part of the Kiwi’s personality faded into the background as the clock ticked down to tip off. Adams shifted into a rock for the team when the game started.
While Adams will never be a Westbrook or Durant in terms of impact on the Thunder, he occupies a specific corner in the Thunder’s history. Adams is a fan favourite like no other Thunder player. The only other player who has been universally loved during their time with the Thunder was Nick Collison.
My first memory of Steven Adams is always an amusing one. The Thunder-Warriors series in the Western Conference Finals in 2016 was one of the greatest series that I have ever seen. It was two powerhouses going back and forth. Every haymaker that the Thunder threw, Golden State were able to match the blow.
The series was tied at 1-1 as the location shifted to Oklahoma City for Game 3. In the midst of a tense playoff battle, Draymond Green booted Steven Adams in the groin area. Green had a habit of bad fouls and this kick was no different. This kick in a sensitive region would have felled most men. Steven just shrugged it off and kept playing as if nothing ever happened. He picked himself and continued on for the team.
The expression on Green’s face after the act was a picture, he could not believe that Adams just kept on going. To me, this is the beauty of Steven Adams’ play. He will take the pain if it means that he can win the game for his team.
There are just so many memories with Steven that were great. There was the time when Jimmy Butler believed that Steven was from Krypton due to his strength.
There was also the time where Adams laid out Patrick Beverley with the hardest screen known to man. On that particular possession, Adams’ screen flattened Beverley and you could hear the crowd groan at the size of the impact.
Steven Adams was also known to be one of the most personable, witty guys on the Thunder roster. His deadpan humour meant that he was always entertaining to listen to. In a time where few Thunder plays spoke to the media, Adams was usually good for an interesting quote. The one example which sticks in my mind was the absurdity of Steven describing a hip contusion in medical jargon.
Steven Adams refused to describe his hip contusion in any other way than using the Latin term: “Australopithecus afarensis” pic.twitter.com/CjaRf6pQNw— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) March 13, 2018
Steven Adams has had a huge impact on the game of basketball in more ways than one. The Oklahoma City Thunder is now a widely supported team in New Zealand because of Steven Adams. He brought a whole new group of fans to this broad church.
When you take a step back and think about the number of Kiwis on Thunder Twitter or Reddit or even here on ‘Welcome to Loud City’, you quickly realise that Steven has shaped the fanbase in his own way.
Moreover, Adams’ presence in the NBA has led to a huge growth in support for basketball in New Zealand. Rugby is obviously the first sport in New Zealand but the game of basketball is not too far behind.
When the first domino fell and Chris Paul was traded to the Phoenix Suns, I hoped that the Thunder would find some way to keep Steven on the team. However, not all good things last. Steven Adams had a great seven years in Oklahoma City and now he has the opportunity to be a leading presence on an exciting, young Pelicans team.
It is hard to work out where Steven Adams sits in the Thunder’s pantheon of great players. At this moment in time, only Nick Collison has had his jersey retired. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are sure-fire candidates to have a jersey sent into the rafters of the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Steven Adams must not be too far behind.
For a lot of people, that is a laughable statement. I can already hear derisory statements about the Thunder retiring a jersey of a guy who averaged 10 points and 9 rebounds. However, those naysayers do not understand what Steven has meant to Oklahoma City.
Adams has been an important part of the Thunder’s culture. Steven’s commitment to the team and willingness to do what it takes to win was infectious. Last year, we saw everybody buy in and play as one brain. Steven was a key part of that culture.
In the past, there is a history of teams retiring the jersey of good culture guys. Oklahoma City retired Nick Collison’s jersey, San Antonio retired the jersey of Bruce Bowen. Why is Steven Adams any different?
In any case, Adams’ departure is pretty painful. There is a bright road ahead for the Thunder but losing an important member of the team’s history is never easy. I just hope that Steven can come back to OKC one day and retire with the Thunder.