Altar boy patrolling the paint

Last week, the Oklahoma City Thunder got exactly what they needed to make a serious run at an NBA title: Kendrick Perkins, a defensive enforcer who was a critical piece of the Celtics' 2008 championship team and is one of the scariest dudes in professional sports. Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman had the responsibility of introducing Perkins to OKC readers and Thunder fans with a profile that looked beyond the hardwood to Perkins' hard life growing up poor in Beaumont, Texas.

Carlson is a sports writer -- probably best known outside Oklahoma because Mike Gundy thinks what she writes is garbage -- and I don't know how much occasion she has had to write about religion. But Carlson latched onto Perkins' days from 7th grade through high school when he became the "world's tallest altar boy."

It's a feature of decent length, but the part that will be of specific interest to those who like stories about religion and sports is a little more than halfway down, after Carlson has introduced early on that Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church was a critical and stabilizing force as Perkins grew big in his grandparents' home:

Stand in the front yard of the lemon-yellow clapboard house on Glenwood Avenue, and you can see Ozen High School where Perkins would become a star. Stand in front of the main gym there, and you can see Our Mother of Mercy.

That became Perkins' world.

The church was the axis. ... [I]n seventh grade, he tried his hand at altar service and found a fit.

Over the next six years as Perkins became a superstar at Ozen and the basketball world was telling him how talented and great and special he was, he would go to Our Mother of Mercy and serve the church. Light candles. Carry incense. Hold books. Whatever the priest needed during Mass, he would do.

There are a few poorly chosen stereotypes in this story. Particularly odd for a story about a Catholic was this: "He's no Holy Roller or Bible thumper either, but he knows what he believes." I guess even Catholics in Texas are supposed to be fundamentalists.

But overall this is a nice story that gives warmth to a man who on the basketball court seems so cold. More importantly, Carlson saw a massive religion hook to Perkins' story, and she didn't let it become a ghost.

PHOTO: Perkins before he was traded from Boston, showing off that famous scowl, via Wikimedia Commons

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