The days of the week mean little to Josh Longstaff. Saturday might as well be Sunday, Monday might as well be Wednesday. His life is defined by when the Oklahoma City Thunder play basketball and when the team practices.
If Longstaff could find the off button to his days, he still wouldn’t punch it. He is another pair of eyes for the Thunder, searching for what helps them win in the NBA.
“This isn’t my job,” he said. “It’s my addiction.”
Two years ago, he traded the normalcy of working sales for Idexx Laboratories in Scarborough and coaching the Gorham High boys’ basketball team for a frenetic life in the NBA. He is in his second season as a video analyst, one of three used by the Thunder to pick apart games after they’ve been played.
If he had an ego, he’d pat himself on the back. Oklahoma City swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks out of the playoffs last weekend. The Los Angeles Lakers or Denver Nuggets are next on the dance card.
These are Longstaff’s pinch-me moments. He is a 30-year-old Portland native who discovered long ago his quick-release jump shot wasn’t quick or accurate enough for an NBA career. Instead, his head has gotten him to where his feet couldn’t take him.
When Longstaff had five minutes to catch his breath this week, he might feel the whirlwind. He can’t. He’s too busy sitting in front of a television monitor, clipping video snapshots. He’s too intent playing against Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for hours on the practice court, helping them understand what he and the assistant coaches gleaned from the video work.
Celebrate the sweep of the Mavericks in Dallas last weekend? Three years ago the Thunder, transplanted from Seattle, were one of the NBA’s weakest franchises. Now they’re one of the best in the Western Conference. There is a freshness about this team that’s won over fans around the country.
The players returned to their locker room after Game 4 and shook hands with teammates, coaches and support staff like Longstaff. They were all remarkably restrained.
“Coach (Scott Brooks) tells everybody, we’ve got to build this brick by brick,” said Longstaff during a midweek phone conversation. “We’re not finished.”
Brick by brick has added meaning in Oklahoma City. Before the World Trade Center fell in New York City and before Hurricane Katrina caused so much death and destruction in New Orleans, there was the Oklahoma City bombing. When Longstaff put the ocean and pine trees in his rear-view mirror and headed to America’s heartland he didn’t understand all that was waiting for him.
Longstaff was 13 when Timothy McVeigh parked his truck filled with explosives in front of the Murrah Federal Building near the city center. The death toll was 168. More than 300 buildings were either destroyed or damaged.
“When Coach talks about resiliency, humility and community, guys like Kevin (Durant) and James (Harden) and everybody, really, understand. You can still see the damage. You still see buildings being rebuilt.
“Boston fans are so passionate because there’s so much history built on the championships won by the Celtics, Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins. Here it’s more day by day. We don’t talk about winning a championship. It never comes up.”
Oklahoma City got its first NBA team four years ago after the SuperSonics abandoned Seattle. The Thunder, thanks in large part to Durant’s selfless play, found a home in a state that reveres its big-time college football teams.
At the other end of the phone, you can imagine Longstaff shaking his head. So much changed so quickly in his life.
He played for Joe Russo at Portland High, and sparingly for Max Good and an assistant coach named Brian Keefe at Bryant University, then a Division II school.
When Keefe joined Brooks’ staff with the Thunder, he and Longstaff talked. Soon, a job offer was part of the conversation. The who-you-know, right place, right time was a gift. Longstaff doesn’t deny it.
Yes, he’s the guy with the towel mopping up the sweat on the court when a player falls. He jumps to get a water bottle when someone asks. He heads to his work station when Westbrook wants to watch the jump shots he’s taken from 15 feet or less. Longstaff may need hours to deliver that video.
“They’re always saying thank you to me. It’s part of my job but it’s nice to hear.” More satisfying is watching a player stop struggling against an opponent’s defense and hit his shot more consistently.
“I don’t expect any credit. I still have so much to learn. But this is my goal, to be an NBA coach.”
During games, Longstaff is away from the court, watching the television screen. At halftime, Brooks wants to see the significant plays of the first two quarters. He’ll get about a dozen. “There’s more preparation than you can imagine,” said Longstaff.
“Every team does it. When you see Kevin Durant score 45, knowing how much preparation the other team did, it’s incredible.”
Longstaff doesn’t have a life away from the Thunder. There’s big country outside the city’s boundaries, but he hasn’t seen much of it. Sometimes he spends as few as four or five hours at the home he shares with his fiance from Portland, Melissa Gaudet.
Even during the NBA lockout, Longstaff was busy. The Thunder were one of the few teams that paid their staff during the shutdown. They wanted to hit the ground running.
Sometimes Longstaff finds himself near the memorial built to honor the Oklahoma City bombing. The moment can be emotional.
“This team has become a symbol of survival,” said Longstaff. “This city is the heart of the team.”
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: