Kendrick Perkins doesn’t work an audience so much as he draws one, one well-wisher at a time.
Posting up courtside on the edge of the Warriors bench a couple of hours before Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the former Celtics power forward is there to chat with a reporter about his ascent as an analyst for ESPN and, locally, at NBC Sports Boston.
But as Perkins — “Perk” to just about everyone, whether they know him personally or not — elaborates on how he never planned on a media career during his playing days and how his popularity as a talking head is a surprise to him, he is greeted by a conga line of friends, colleagues, fellow media folks, and NBA cognoscenti.
“Hi my friend, how are you doing?” he says as “SportsCenter” anchor Elle Duncan says a quick hello and offers an update on the particulars of an upcoming segment in which he will participate.
Duncan heads off, and Brendan Haywood, a former player and current NBATV analyst, swings over to give Perk some good-natured grief about not returning texts.
“I was going to see if you wanted to chop it up, break a little bread with your boy, but no, can’t get a reply,” says Haywood with a laugh. “Too big for me now.”
Perkins laughs and engulfs him in a bear hug.
Then comes Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, not to be confused with former Celtic Isaiah Thomas, the IT who is actually liked around here. The former Pistons star, who also does work for NBATV, shouts, “Perk!” and greets him with an elaborate handshake. He graciously offers a much more basic handshake to a reporter.
Later, after the interview, Perkins remains in his spot, holding court at the corner of the court, chatting with Bill Simmons, while the parade of visitors continues. Perk seems to know everyone who swings by, but when he clearly doesn’t and there’s an introduction to be made, he treats the new acquaintance like a new friend, always asking their opinion of this NBA matter or that after he shares his own.
It becomes clear, if it weren’t already, that he is well-liked not because he’s on TV, but he’s on TV in large part because he is so easy to like. On the air and off, an authentic personality like Perkins’s is always in demand. People want to be in the presence of someone like that.
“I’m able to be me, and that’s all they ask, and all I want to be,” said Perkins.
When Perkins retired from the NBA in 2019 after 14 seasons, he figured he might go into coaching.
A media career?
“It never actually crossed my mind, to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s usually the bigger-name guys that get those offers. Not a country guy from Texas like me.”
But during the 2019 playoffs, Perkins figured he’d give Twitter a whirl.
“And I thought, you know, I’m just going to start tweeting my thoughts throughout the playoffs and things of that nature and see where that gets me,” he said.
A tweet scolding the Celtics’ Marcus Smart for a defensive slip-up caught the attention of a Fox Sports producer.
“I said something like, ‘You know you’re not supposed to leave strong-side corner, Marcus Smart,’ and I got a DM after that asking if I’d like to go on ‘Undisputed,’ the Skip Bayless show,” Perkins said.
ESPN checked in not long after that, and Perkins pulled off an unprecedented double.
“I’m the only one to go on ‘Undisputed’ and ‘First Take’ in the same day,” he said with a laugh. “Did one from the studio and the other from my hotel room.”
His ESPN hits were, well, a hit, and “that’s been my ride ever since,” he said. He signed a multiyear contract extension with the network in May 2021, appearing on various studio programs, including “SportsCenter,” “First Take,” “NBA Today,” and “Get Up.”
Celtics fans know he also is a regular on NBC Sports Boston’s Celtics programming. That assignment came about at the urging of color analyst and former Celtics teammate Brian Scalabrine.
“I was doing a radio appearance with Scal,” said Perkins, “and he said, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea for you. Do you want to come on the Boston channel with me?’ I said, ‘Sure,’ and NBC Sports Boston got in touch. Scal hooked me up.”
He’s asked if Scalabrine demanded an agent’s fee.
“I mean, as much as I helped him through his career, that’s the least he could do,” laughs Perkins.
During the just-concluded Celtics season, NBC Sports Boston on occasion would have Perkins in studio with Scalabrine and fellow former teammate Eddie House, along with host Amina Smith. The good-natured needling and camaraderie among the three former teammates made for entertaining television. It was easy to imagine that’s what their interactions were like in the locker room on the 2008 championship team.
“That’s exactly what it was like,” said Perkins. “The same energy. But it comes naturally. You can tell that nothing was rehearsed. That’s how it was in the locker room. We argue, and we keep arguing, but we smile the whole time and right after. We may disagree, and two guys may jump on one, but that’s part of it that makes it fun.
“Listen, you can go on television and break down the game, and yeah, that’s cool. But you also have to have some type of personality about yourself, some type of humor or friendliness or entertainment, because that’s why people tune in.”
And why NBA personalities, one after the other, before a huge game, come by just to say hello. When Perk is present, just about everyone wants a moment in his presence.