Loyal Number 4 – A Look Inside Nick Collison’s Number Retirement Day

Over the course of his Thunder career, Nick Collison traveled into Oklahoma City hundreds of times. Usually it was by private charter with the team, landing in the wee hours of the morning, trying to soak up precious moments of rest before the rigorous regular season schedule raged on. 

This week, Collison’s arrival and the feeling during the trip were much, much different. The former Thunder forward drove down from Kansas City with his 13-year old daughter, Emma, for a once-in-a-lifetime reason. 

On Wednesday night, the Thunder retired Collison’s number 4, making it the first retired number in the organization’s history and a statement of how much the new age, do-it-all, dirty work player embodied the values of not just the team but for the entire state of Oklahoma during his 15-year NBA career. 

On the eve of that big day, Collison had dinner with longtime teammate and Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook along with some other local friends. Collison connected with the roots he laid down in Oklahoma City, and during a whirlwind of a day on Wednesday, his family from Iowa joined him for all of the pomp and circumstance. 

Amid the interviews and the visits with members of the organization, Collison went out for a walk, taking in downtown Oklahoma City once again on Wednesday afternoon. He wanted take a big breath of fresh air before taking on what was an emotional, uplifting and downright fun occasion. Collison first walked into the arena on Wednesday evening the same way he always did - through the security entrance where players always file in - but along his way down the corridor he was met by familiar faces from his 10 seasons in Oklahoma City.

Thunder staffers, security officers and ushers each got a handshake or a hug on the way to his official press conference, where he tried to articulate just how honored he feels to have the Thunder make him the first person up in the rafters inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. 

“I could have never expected something like this. It's really a special night for me and my family,” said Collison. “It's been a long run. To be able to have the career I had here, then have a celebration like that, I feel very fortunate. That kind of goes without saying. But it's amazing for me.”

After the questions concluded, Collison was whisked away to the Park House, a beautifully adorned event space along the eastern edge of Myriad Gardens where Collison was greeted by high-profile members of the community, along with a special video from his former University of Kansas head coach Roy Williams.

While there, Collison engaged in a question-and-answer session with the Thunder’s voice on the radio where he talked about some of his favorite career moments, like a clutch three-pointer in the Thunder’s postseason series against the LA Clippers, along with staying connected with the team now, his body feeling better since he stopped jumping hundreds of times every day, and one of Thunder fans’ favorite subjects, the evolution of his hair.

Back in the arena, an elegant reception room filled with former teammates, coaches and staff members awaited Collison as he met with everyone and built up the courage for his big moment that came later in front of 18,203 adoring fans.

Down on the floor of Chesapeake Energy Arena, 15 minutes before tip-off for the Thunder’s game against the Toronto Raptors, Collison stood on the baseline as a tribute video played on the scoreboard. At its conclusion, a banner with the blue number 4 and the Collison name at the top unfurled from the rafters behind the Thunder’s bench.

Collison then stepped to center court, at first surrounded by his family, Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett and General Manager and Vice President Sam Presti, then later by the current Thunder players and coaches. In a heartfelt address, Collison recounted his first days in Oklahoma as a founding member of the organization and the process of building something special from scratch.

“I was here a long time ago when this thing started. We went to work in that old skating rink,” Collison said, in reference to the Thunder’s original practice facility. “We built something really special here. I was able to be here for every day of that. And I’m really proud of that.”

“Russell over there was with me for every one of those days too,” Collison added, turning towards the only other Thunder player to be with the organization for each of the first 10 seasons of its existence in Oklahoma City.

That prompted memories of Collison’s 127 total and 93 Oklahoma City teammates over the years, from the future Hall-of-Famers to the role players. The thing Collison misses most about being with the Thunder is just the time he got to spend with his brothers – in the locker room, at practice, on the plane, on the bus, and on the road. Those little moments help build the bond on the floor too, and Collison always recognized that.

“I’ve always loved my teammates. I always wanted my teammates to know that all I wanted was to help them win,” Collison said.

One by one, Collison then turned to those standing behind him. First to Bennett, saying, “None of this happens without you.” Then to Presti, saying, “You believed in me when you took this job over. I found a place in this league because of you.” Collison then mentioned his brother and sister and their families, then his girlfriend before arriving at Emma. That’s when Collison, for the first time, truly got choked up.

The proud father gushed about his daughter and how excited he is to spend more time with her now that his career and his constant travel during the season is over. Collison got it together enough to throw in a joke about helping with Emma’s homework on the drive down, and after that, he turned to his parents, Dave and Judy, saying, “Every good quality that I have, I got from them.”

Pausing after another roar from the crowd, Collison concluded his remarks, thanked the fans, thanked the city and the Thunder organization and said of this day, “I’ll never forget it.”

Neither will we, Nick.