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The Impressive Career of Nick Collison

A look back at a KU great’s career after his NBA retirement

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

This is the memory that comes to mind.

Sitting in our living room as it neared midnight on March 27, 2003, my dad and I watched in awe as Nick Collison rebounded and subsequently scored everything in sight. Kansas was facing Duke in a Sweet 16 matchup of the No. 2 and 3 seeds in Anaheim, California. Sharing the court was J. J. Redick, Kirk Hinrich, Dahntay Jones, Chris Duhon, Keith Langford, and Aaron Miles, but it was all eyes on Nick Collison.

“This is insane,” 13-year-old me probably said as we tried to keep track of the rapid stat accumulation.

Collison finished the 69-65 win with 33 points—on an efficient 14-22 from the field—19 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. It was the midway point of an NCAA Tournament he would complete averaging 18.6 points and 13.5 rebounds per game.

That’s the first memory that comes to mind. There’s plenty of other options. The game against Texas earlier that year where Collison’s 24-point, 23-rebound game at Allen Fieldhouse caused Dick Vitale to give him a standing ovation is a close second. For me, Collison’s 21 points, 19 rebounds and 3-10 shooting from the line in the Syracuse title game was overshadowed by the flu (I just remember laying miserably in a chair wondering if the sickness or the team’s free throw shooting was worse).

But it could have been any number of fantastic moments throughout his storied career that stuck out to me when I read that Nick Collison was retiring after 15 years in the NBA.

Collison was an all-time great collegiate player, scoring more than 2,000 points and 1,100 rebounds in his career, good for second and third in Kansas’ storied history. And while his NBA career took a different path than his college career, it was impressive nonetheless.

The longevity of playing 14 seasons in 15 years—after missing year one with shoulder surgery—and outlasting most of an absolutely stacked 2003 draft class, was impressive. As was doing so for a single franchise.

The knowledge and wherewithal to do all the right things to stay on the court, changing his game and role in the process, was impressive. Collison played in 910 games and started 177, including a stretch from 2006-2008 where he started 91 of 160 games and averaged nearly 10 points and nine rebounds. Then the teams added guys like Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams and he found a way to make an impact from the bench for teams consistently making deep runs in the playoffs.

The level of leadership and respect Collison displayed as a role player, leading MVP Russell Westbrook to say this and also this about his teammate and friend, was impressive.

The off-the-court presence and personality that got him a gig blogging for GQ, was impressive. And I had to break this out as a separate point, because the consistently great Halloween costumes might be the most impressive off-the-court achievement of them all.

Don’t just look at the numbers. They’re misleading. The outpouring of support in the days since his retirement announcement speaks to a player worth more than six points and five rebounds a game for 14 years.

It speaks to an impressive career.