NBA: Kiwi Steven Adams' imminent departure rocks Oklahoma City Mayor, media

Kiwi centre Steven Adams will leave an indelible impression on Oklahoma City - including the local mayor - when/if he is traded during NBA free agency.

As Thunder fans brace for what seems like an inevitable deal sending their cult hero to New Orleans, Mayor David Holt has joined the chorus of tributes to the big man.

"We’ll always love you, Steven," Holt has tweeted, along with a photo of a giant mural of Adams adorning a wall in downtown Oklahoma.

At least one commenter has begged that the image never be removed from its inner-city location, a testament to how fondly Adams is regarded in his adopted home.

"The fans are dismayed," says Berry Tramel, who has covered OKC Thunder for The Oklahoman, since they moved from Seattle in 2008.

"They’re in revolt, some have said they’re through with the Thunder - they won’t ever have their heart broken again.

"Steven really connected with people and became an icon in the city, but if they let their heads run things for a while, they’ll realise it’s the best decision for the Thunder future - and the best for Steven’s future."

The Thunder franchise has entered a rebuilding phase, dispensing with coach Billy Donovan and superstar guard Chris Paul already, and slowly cleaning house of its senior players.

Adams, 27, first came to the ‘Sooner State’ as a skinny teenager and has blossomed into a man among men in a role that often chews up pretenders and spits them out.

But Tramel is clearly among those won over by the Kiwi traits he brought to his trade.

"First of all, he’s just completely charming," he says. "He’s unassuming and down to earth, and he’s different. 

"He’s got the Kiwi accent and that great sense of humour, and he would say interesting things, which most of the Thunder players do not. He played so hard and played so great, and did all the dirty work.

"The way he played really resonated and the way he conducted himself really resonated, and he’s just so unique looking. He looks like someone from another planet sometimes, when he’s flying through the air."

Professional athletes often conduct a running battle with media, suspicious of their motives and refusing to divulge too much of their personality for fear of getting burnt.

Not so much Adams.

"He would get tired of the media pretty regular," says Tramel. "Anybody would - it’s a daily grind - but he was always willing to talk about basketball.

"If you asked him a question, he would sometimes ask you to repeat it, because he wanted to make sure what you were asking and he was willing to answer it. Most of the guys give you a canned answer that has nothing to do with the specifics of the question.

"One thing I liked about Steven Adams the most is the way he interacted with his coaches. When they called him over during a game and talked to him, you could see Steven was paying attention and asking questions.

Steven Adams & OKC coach Billy Donovan
Steven Adams & OKC coach Billy Donovan. Photo credit: Getty

"Steven would get out his fingers and ask, 'Is this what you mean?', and then he’d go out and do exactly what was suggested.

"That’s not the way most people in the NBA are. Most players think they’ve got the game all figured out and the coaches are just there to fill out a line-up card."

But Adams hasn’t just been a great basketball ambassador in Oklahoma - he's done his part to promote New Zealand among a populace that doesn’t often look beyond their own borders.

"For four million Oklahomans, Steven is the predominant exposure we’ve ever had to the nation of New Zealand," says Tramel. "I can tell you, you couldn’t have had a better representative.

"Everybody either wants to go to New Zealand or wants a bunch of New Zealanders to come to Oklahoma."