Let's begin with this: Boston loves Kendrick Perkins.
This statement is uncontroversial. Incontrovertible. Probably enduring forever. Perk is a hard-working, overachieving, tough dude, and Boston bills itself as a hard-working, overachieving, tough town. It was a match made in heaven, ever since 2003. This town was infatuated with Perk then, stuck with him for seven-going-on-eight years, and still has an attachment to him today.
We revered Perk in Boston, even though he was never known for flashy plays or gaudy numbers.
We pined for him to an irrational extent in 2011, some even saying his February trade to Oklahoma City was the reason the '11 Celtics failed to win a championship.
And we still vicariously pull for him now, even from (give or take) 1,688 miles away, as he attempts to do what the Celtics teams of the last two years couldn't do: topple the hated Miami Heat in a seven-game playoff series. Long story short, we adore the guy.
But if you zoom out a bit, examining the national perspective on the lumbering big man who took his talents to the Sooner State last winter, you see that we might be alone.
Perk's now playing in a harsh environment, one that fails to utilize his subtle strengths and often magnifies his shortcomings. And the world has noticed.
They've harped on his unfavorable comparison to his backup in OKC, Nick Collison.
They've mocked him for the inordinate amount of playing time he's getting.
And none of them are wrong. All of the above opinions are smart ones from smart people, and in the context of this current Thunder team, they make a lot of sense. Perk can't score, he can't be "productive" according to the traditional definition of that word, and frankly, he can't earn the $8.4 million salary he's averaging over the next four seasons. But that doesn't make him useless.
Perk succeeded in Boston because he was used correctly. No one paid him big money, no one ran plays for him on, and no one expected him to do anything more than rebound, defend, set hard (OK, fine, moving) screens, and beat the hell out of opposing bigs who dared challenge him. That was his role. A handful of green-clad Hall of Famers did the rest.
On the court, fans loved Perk because he did his job. Off it, media types were fond of him for his understated but lovable personality. He was a straight shooter, giving you unfiltered and insightful opinions rather than empty cliches. He treated others with respect. Forget his scowling persona -- he was a decent human being, much more so than the vast majority of his NBA peers.
The real Perk gets lost in the narrative. We're now watching the NBA Finals, a series dominated by many-time All-Stars with eye-gouging stats. Perk isn't one of those guys, and he's buried for it.
But he's still capable of doing the little things well, and that shouldn't go overlooked. At least once in this seven-game series, you'll see a game hinge on a pivotal putback off an offensive rebound, or a crunch-time stop anchored by the big guy in the middle, or a key pin-down screen on LeBron James that frees up Kevin Durant for a big shot. Perk may not come up big the way Durant or Russell Westbrook does, but he'll come up little, and that matters too.
Two years ago, fans in Boston insisted that if not for Perk's NBA Finals-ending ACL injury, their Celtics would have won their second title in three years. The big man and his 10.1 points per game were the difference.
Win or lose, no one will make a similar argument this year. Perk doesn't command that kind of admiration anymore. But hopefully at some point, to some extent, the rest of the world will figure out what those of us in the 617 already recognize: The big fella deserves some respect. He might even deserve a second championship ring, too.