Posted Feb 9 2010 11:07AM
Some might take suiting up for nearly a dozen NBA teams as a hint that you're not wanted. Kevin Ollie takes the opposite approach. And it makes sense.
Almost forty percent of the league has wanted this guy. Ollie fits in well wherever he goes.
"All my fits have been pretty good," he said. "It just hasn't been a long stint anywhere."
Ollie, 37, has taken residence in his 12th locker room this season, this one belonging to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Though it's technically 11 franchises -- factoring in a short stay with the Seattle SuperSonics seven years go -- the point is that Ollie gets around.
And he keeps coming back.
"It's been fun," he said. "When you're growing up, you don't think you're going to be playing for that many teams, but it's just been a blessing to be in the NBA. My travels have taken me around the world to different places I never thought I'd see."
He finished a four-year college career at the University of Connecticut in 1995, but the basketball big leagues weren't the next stop. Two years were spent in the CBA before the NBA voyage with Dallas began in 1997. The ports of call along the way also include Orlando, Sacramento, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Indiana, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Minnesota.
Chucky Brown, Tony Massenburg and Jim Jackson currently hold the record for playing with the most NBA franchises, at 12. Only twice has Ollie spent at least two consecutive seasons on the same team, both times with the 76ers. Other than that it's been a year-to-year existence with some 10-day contracts sprinkled in. He's been dealt at the trade deadline twice.
"That's the definition of a hard worker that never gives up," Thunder teammate Kevin Durant said. "He's brought a lot of leadership to this team. I'm a leader, but I'm only three years in. It's tough for me to lead if I haven't been through that much. He's been through it all as a player. He's helping me out as much as anybody."
After a particularly rough game for Durant earlier this season, Ollie reached out to the soon-to-be All-Star in the middle of the night with some encouraging words.
"He texted me and prayed for me, and lifted me up," Durant said. "He made sure I felt better. I never had that before."
Ollie freely refers to himself as the Thunder's "elder statesman." Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks, the 17th NBA coach Ollie has played for, admits Ollie's experience is just as valuable as his basketball ability.
"He's seen a lot of basketball, a lot of different systems," Brooks said. "He's been around a lot of great players and I'm sure he's been around a lot of guys that think they are great, but they were not great. He understands that we have a team that is going to get better every day because we work hard and he's part of that."
Ollie's first season with the Thunder is devoid of on-court highlights. He was Russell Westbrook's backup early this season before coming down with a knee injury in November. Ollie had minor surgery and didn't see the floor again until late January. When he returned, the depth chart had changed considerably.
General manager Sam Presti traded for rookie Eric Maynor in December to serve as Westbrook's primary understudy. Maynor's addition effectively cut out any chance of Ollie getting significant time on the floor. He's played just nine minutes since Nov. 22.
Ollie refuses to complain. He wouldn't have made it this long by whining for playing time, and Brooks stresses Ollie's worth on a team fighting for a playoff spot in the dog-eat-dog West.
"He understands his role," Brooks said. "I like veterans that understand their roles, and it's important that you have that. He loves the game. He's passionate about it. One day I'm sure he's going to be a great coach.
"He understands that Russell, every now and then, needs an earful. Kevin is willing to talk to Russell and there is no hidden agenda there. He's as honest as any player can possibly be."
Ollie understands the business and the future in Oklahoma City. Westbrook looks to be on an All-Star path -- he's on the sophomore team for Friday's Rookie Challenge -- and Maynor isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Ollie could get traded later this month, latch on with another squad next season or simply hang 'em up.
The basketball vagabond established a home base in Connecticut four years ago with his wife and two kids to give his family permanence. Though he could go into coaching, he also owns a business conferencing company and may pursue other interests outside the game.
Whatever comes next, Ollie will be ready. He always is.
"My wife is on me all the time about retiring," he said. "If she had it her way, I would have retired about two years ago. I just keep plugging along."
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