It’s rare, in the era of free agency, for an athlete in a major sport to last an entire decade-long career with one team. The few who do so — the Derek Jeters, Tim Duncans, Tom Bradys — tend to be stars so valuable that their teams are loath to trade them of let them walk away.
And that’s what makes longtime Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison such an oddity. Collison, who on Thursday announced his retirement from the NBA in an essay on ESPN.com, played 14 pro seasons, all with one franchise. He was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics No. 12 overall in 2003, then followed the team to Oklahoma City when it became the Thunder. In a decade and a half in the NBA, he never once scored 10 points per game, never once started more than two-thirds of his team’s contests, never once averaged more than 30 minutes an outing. Even at his absolute best, he was nothing more than a role player. And yet he was never cut or traded, and he never chose to leave for a slightly better offer, as so many other players would have.
Despite what you might hear, there isn’t intrinsic virtue to sticking in one place for an entire career. There’s nothing particularly great about “loyalty” to franchises that feel little loyalty back. But it’s still kind of cool that Collison stayed in the same spot for such an absurdly long time, despite contributing only sparsely in his later years. By the end of his time in OKC, he was practically an institution. That the Thunder were willing to keep him on their roster these past few years even while he provided essentially zero on-court value seems to indicate what team brass thought of him as an off-court presence.
Here’s how Collison summed up his career in his essay for ESPN (as told to Royce Young):
I’ve played with some incredible players, future Hall of Famers, and had the unique experience of spending my entire career with one franchise, but in two different cities.
I started in cold gyms in small towns in Iowa and ended up playing in more than 1,000 games over 15 years in the best league in the world. I’ve had an incredible run. I’m proud of my career.
But it’s time to go. I’m retiring from competitive basketball.
And so Collison disappears into retirement with career averages of 5.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, as well as the eternal admiration of the Thunder franchise and fanbase. Not a bad career.