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An incomplete collage of Steven Adams being hit in the face and balls
An incomplete collage of Steven Adams being hit in the face and balls

BooksJuly 30, 2018

Steven Adams: Why does everybody want to fight me?

An incomplete collage of Steven Adams being hit in the face and balls
An incomplete collage of Steven Adams being hit in the face and balls

In this edited extract from the new book by Steven Adams, he tells how as a rookie he got NBA veterans ejected, and it wasn’t that hard.

The moment I was drafted someone tweeted WELP STEVEN ADAMS TO OKC and Kevin Durant apparently replied “smh”. He deleted the tweet and replaced it with “Welcome Steven Adams”.

Not the warmest welcome I’d ever received, but my new teammates’ feelings about me weren’t my concern.

My responsibility was working hard with the coaches to earn my spot on the roster for the regular season. It became clear to me that my main influences throughout the season would be MB, Kendrick “Perk” Perkins and Nick Collison. Nick seemed happy to guide me through the systems and to try to get me up to speed as fast as possible. Perk? Not so much.

Perk’s a big guy and he’s tough too. He’s not about that friendly banter. MB had been working with me hard-out to prepare for training, but with Perk it was still a shock. That guy can throw his weight around. I was used to playing in New Zealand against short rugby players who like to throw themselves at you, but at least I was bigger and could sort them out quite easily. Suddenly, I was the smaller one and here was Perk practically assaulting me every day at practice. It was time to adapt or die, and I wasn’t ready to lie down just yet. I started to fight back. If he was going to tug shirts and hold down arms, so was I. He might have been bigger, but I had speed on him and would use that to annoy him.

By the end of training camp, I thought I’d made good progress. Perk wasn’t pushing me around as much and I was giving as good as I got. Maybe I was giving too much because as we were finishing up a scrimmage we got tangled up off the ball and I may have accidentally elbowed him. He retaliated by throwing a massive elbow into my ribs, winding me and yelling, “I’m the only silverback!”

I was stunned. I thought I heard some of the other guys laughing, but I was too busy worrying that Perk would keep going and just kill me to save time. I had had scuffles with opponents, but this was a whole new level – and he was on the same team as me. Walking back to the changing rooms to shower, I realized I would have to get a whole lot tougher if I was going to match up against NBA centres throughout the league. As I was packing up to leave the gym for the day, MB wandered by and muttered, “You know silverbacks have the smallest dicks, right?” It cracked me up. I didn’t even know if it was true, but it reassured me that I must be doing something right.

I never spoke to Perk about that incident again. The next day he came into training and we said hello and got back to smashing each other on the court like usual. Perk was never one to hold grudges. If you annoyed him, he’d tell you, then expect everyone to get back to work. I followed his lead and didn’t dwell on it. I figured I’d get much more of the same once the season started so I might as well get used to it.

Zach Randolph punches Steven Adams in six parts

Dre Roberson and I were the two rookies on the roster that season, so were each given a senior player to “assist” on road trips, although we really had to do what everyone said, not just our veteran buddies. Dre was paired up with Perk, and I had Russell Westbrook. You hear stories about the hazing that has happened at other teams – the ritual humiliation of the newbies. There was nothing like that. The Thunder culture is more family than fraternity, so the only form of rookie hazing was just stuff that little brothers would be expected to do for their elders. I carried Russ’s bags to the plane and picked him up food on the way if he requested it. Dre got fined a bunch of times for being late to the plane because Perk had ordered food from him. Fines are $750 for a first offence, then $3000, $5000 and on and on. I was always on time.

The Thunder plane is amazing. It barely counts as a disadvantage having to travel when you get to fly on a private plane with recliners and tables and a stocked pantry. Once we landed in a city for an away game everyone would go to their own hotel rooms before having a shootaround. I never took my own shampoo or body wash because the hotels would have all that stuff. But almost everyone else in the team was a bit more particular about their grooming, including Russ. Let’s just say that I purchased a lot of body wash that season which I never got to use.

I don’t remember much about my regular season debut. I know it was against the Utah Jazz because I had a real nice New Zealand steak there that made me like the place.

We won that game and I got my first career points, ending with four points and three rebounds. A week later I recorded my first double-double during a win against Detroit, with 17 points and 10 rebounds. I didn’t do anything different that game, but after making my first few shot attempts, Russ kept looking for me inside.

I was looking forward to our second game that same week against the Dallas Mavericks because it meant I could see my old mate Dirk Nowitzki again. He didn’t remember me enough to say hi and I didn’t want to bother him, but I really felt our friendship grow that day. We won, and I thought that win would be memorable because it marked the first time I got “faded” by Dirk. “Faded” meaning scored on by his signature fadeaway jump shot. Instead it was memorable because I got the legend Vince Carter ejected.

I didn’t mean to. I never mean to. I caught an offensive rebound in the low post and Carter was guarding me on my left. As every basketball player is taught to do when playing in the low post, I gripped the ball with two hands and stuck my elbows out for protection while I tried to pivot into space. But Carter is 6′ 6″ as opposed to my 7-feet, so my swinging elbow clocked him on the side of the head before I passed back out for a shot. When the shot went up a second later, I tried to get past Carter again for the rebound and was hit on the cheek on my way through.

The whistle blew as I caught the rebound and heard Russ yelling, “He can’t do that shit, man!”

I looked around and pointed to myself. Was he talking about me? I thought it was a bit late to be calling my elbow, especially since it was accidental. We formed a team huddle while the refs reviewed the play and I watched myself get elbowed in the face by Vince Carter on the huge TV. It looked kinda funny in slow motion, but I couldn’t laugh otherwise I’d look bad, so I just watched and chewed my gum and tried to look nonchalant while the crowd booed for my poor cheekbone.

While my friends back in New Zealand were celebrating the first days of 2014 by getting drunk and passing out in paddocks, I marked the occasion by fouling out in three consecutive games.

Fouling out is always stink because it means you’re useless to your team and have to watch the rest of the game from the bench. Fouling out after starting on the bench is worse as it means you were supposed to be giving an energy boost and letting the starters rest, and instead you put yourself out of the game. Fouling out after starting on the bench and playing only 10 minutes is beyond stink. I pledged that day that I would never do it again.

We played the Golden State Warriors at home – and what did I do? I fouled out after starting on the bench and playing only 10 minutes.

We had a rest the next day, and then we were back at the arena playing DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings. Cousins is easily one of the toughest guys to mark in the league. He’s strong but also plays angry, so you never know what he might suddenly do. I can take a punch to the face better than anyone, but even I would like a bit of warning. I wasn’t looking forward to playing him because he was physical, and when you match up with an enforcer, you can’t help but dial up your own roughness. That almost always means more fouls for everyone.

As it turned out, I didn’t get my first foul until five minutes into the second quarter, but I also wasn’t getting anything else. My shot was off, and my confidence was low after the previous two games. I was doing a good job of making sure every Cousins shot was a contested one, but I was still fouling and was fouled out for the third time in a row with five minutes left to play.

Fouling out in three consecutive games made me question my whole style of play. It wasn’t just one end of the floor either; I was getting called for shooting fouls, offensive fouls, loose ball fouls. I started to wonder whether the refs had had a talk and decided that all the things I was doing to piss off other guys and get them ejected would now be fouls. If that was the case, I was screwed. I spoke to Scotty after that third game and asked him if I should maybe try being a bit less physical so I could stop getting fouled out all the time. He didn’t hesitate at all in telling me no. In fact, he said the only reason he’d get angry was if I changed how I played. Nobody told me to do anything differently because they all knew it would pass, and it did. It didn’t take long before I was back annoying opponents and catching elbows.

My last ejection of that season had happened a few days before my terrible fouling spree, against the Milwaukee Bucks. Once again it was a scuffle that happened off the ball. In the middle of the second quarter, Reggie Jackson set up on the wing for a three-point shot while I cut to the basket, ready for the rebound. On my way in I bumped Larry Sanders. It was an intentional bump because no big ever cuts through the paint without making contact with anyone. So I bumped him and he bumped me back and it was all fun bumping, until he decided to bump me in the throat with his forearm. He was ejected and later fined $2000.

I didn’t understand how all these players could react so aggressively to me all the time. I figured they must all have grown up as only children. Anyone who grew up with a bunch of siblings knows that parents are basically just refs for the first 10 years of your life. The trick was to annoy your siblings as much as you could without being caught by your household ref. Nudge them, bump them, stand in their way, but insist you’re not touching them.

These are all little kiddie moves that work just as well on the basketball court. At home, if you cracked first and tried to punch your sibling in front of your parents, everyone got a hiding. But on the basketball court, if you lose your cool first, you’re usually the only one who gets punished.

I grew up the youngest of 14 kids. My ability to annoy and my capacity to withstand physical taunts is pretty bloody high.

I think what took those veterans by surprise was that I was a mere rookie and yet had the gall to annoy them and make them crack. I think some of them considered it disrespectful of me or some sort of dirty tactic. No, it was just that in that particular aspect of the game I’d had a lifetime of practice. When I started in the NBA I was already a veteran in taking hits.

Steven Adams: My Life, My Fight by Steven Adams with Madeleine Chapman (Penguin Random House, $40) is available at Unity Books.

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