Thunder's Deonte Burton is more than his measurements
In the locker room of the BOK Center on Sunday, Deonte Burton sat relaxed during pregame before he and Abdel Nader start to argue about time.
It's friendly. Burton and Nader played together at Iowa State and their careers have intersected again with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nader insists the first time he saw Burton dunk was in 2015. Burton was still ineligible after transferring from Marquette when after an ISU game he broke out a series of 360 windmill dunks wearing only jeans and Timberland boots.
“It was trash,” Nader said with a smile, Burton nodding quickly and deadpanning “That's about right.”
“Nah,” Nader said. “It was like … thunder.”
That's no surprise, but what happened next was perplexing. Burton and Nader continued back and forth about what year the dunking happened. They agreed on the where and the how. The when was the issue.
Maybe it's because all Burton's above-the-rim exploits blur together. The rest is easier to separate.
Burton – the 6-foot-5, 250-pound barrel of Milwaukee-born dynamite – has created a stir among Thunder fans for his unique body type and explosive dunks. But Burton is determined to be more than that on and off the court.
'It all worked out'
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Burton is a two-way player, meaning he can spend 45 days with the Thunder this season and not count against its salary cap. He'll like spend the majority of the season punishing rims for the G League Oklahoma City Blue.
His journey is a zig-zag across the basketball map, from Marquette University two seasons, to Iowa State two more, to Wonju Dongbu Promy of South Korea's KBL last season.
But at every destination, Burton carries weight with him, and the spirit of his mother, Barbara Burton-Malone.
In November, Burton revealed on his Instagram he has battled depression throughout his life. That depression was tougher to live with when Barbara passed away in 2014 from breast cancer.
While playfully arguing with Nader, Burton finally conceded he had the dates crossed up about his legendary dunks. Yet, only a few beats of silence passed before, unprompted, Burton brought up his mother and his cause. The day before the Thunder's preseason game against Atlanta was the anniversary of Barbara's death, Oct. 6, 2014.
“She was a big influence,” said Burton, who transferred from Marquette to Iowa State after Barbara passed. “She taught me just the values of discipline. She instilled those things along with my dad.
“It's interesting how the world keeps going even when someone dies. It's scary, you could say.”
Burton couldn't just stop after Barbara died. As a senior at Iowa State in 2017, he established Pink Legacy, a cause marketing campaign he's working to turn into a charity. His first event will be a toy drive for the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee on Oct. 26.
Burton never forgot the time he spent at Children's as a youth. When he was five, Burton was involved in a grease accident at home in which he sustained third-degree burns on 70 percent of his body. He required skin grafts that took years to heal.
“It's near and dear to me because I was once one of those kids that had to stay in the hospital for an extended stay,” Burton said. “It gets rough.”
As the youngest of seven children, however, Burton was toughened up. When he'd run to Barbara for his siblings picking on him, as soon as they left, they'd beat him up for tattling.
Burton can laugh about it now.
“I was the runt,” he said. “But now I'm the biggest out of everyone, so it all worked out.”
‘What's my position?'
Burton's athleticism at his size is traffic stopping, enough to where you wonder how he'd fare in other sports.
He tried baseball. He looks like an outside linebacker, which makes it no surprise he won a Boys and Girls Club football championship in middle school. As a senior in high school, his dabbled in the high jump.
“These thick legs are hard to get up,” Burton said, rubbing the tops of thighs which push the integrity of his white compression shorts to their limit.
But Burton has made his physique his advantage. At summer league, he became a viral sensation while elevating for shocking dunks, but the Thunder found his ability to play every position more important.
“He doesn't care. He's just a basketball player,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think if he's going against a center, he'd get in there and fight and battle."
Burton laughs when asked about being a player at his position with those height/weight statistics.
“First, what's my position?,” Burton asks. “I think it's a plus, my body size, because I'm quick enough to guard smaller players, but I'm strong enough to guard bigger.
“The only disadvantage, I'd say, is going through screens just to get small. But I'm working at it and definitely getting better at it.”
Burton answered the call Tuesday in Thunder's preseason finale, scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including three consecutive 3-pointers in OT.
And of course, there was a dunk. Hamidou Diallo, another promising Thunder rookie, dribbled up court off a steal and Burton immediately pointed up on the fast break for the alley-oop. Burton might not even remember it in the years to come.
Instead of being defined by a series of violent dunks, Burton wants to be a positionless player and the type of person Barbara would be proud of.
“I may not necessarily have a position but I have a role,” Burton said. “Just to bring energy, be a dog on defense, really just do the nitty-gritty things. Get the job done.
“And I want my legacy to be that I helped change multiple communities for the better. That's really all I want. When(ever) I have kids, I'm a great father, husband, and that I helped people … that I'm not just a taker, I'm a giver.”
THUNDER AT WARRIORS
•When: 9:30 p.m., Tuesday
•Where: Oracle Arena; Oakland, Calif.
•TV: TNT (Cox 31/HD 730, Dish 138, DirecTV 245, U-verse 108/1108)