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Sports are a strange thing. One second it’s euphoria, ecstasy, and adrenaline all in one bundle. And then the next it’s heart break and sorrow. It’s almost like a drug. And while it’s entrenched in reality, it really isn’t reality. It’s entertainment. Its young men, paid millions of dollars, to do things with spherical objects that you and I wish we could do. For most of us, the entertainment ends when the final buzzer sounds. We either pump our chest up in victory, or slump our heads in defeat. And after a couple minutes, the feeling is over. We go back to our lives and move on.
But sometimes, sports and real life become intertwined due to circumstances beyond our control. We saw that, not too long ago, in the Boston Marathon bombing. Runners and spectators, alike, sprung into action to make the best out of an extremely chaotic situation. We saw the support on the hardwood from the Boston Celtics players and the support on the diamond from the Boston Red Sox players (especially David Ortiz). From 1700 miles away, it was inspiring and heart-warming to see that kind of support from the local pro athletes.
Then, May 20th happened. We, Oklahomans, have been through this before. The Murrah building bombing in 1995. The Moore tornado in 1999. And now, this tornado. We’ve mourned the losses of those killed, mended the hurt and wounded, and have rebuilt even stronger. But, we’ve never done it as a city that houses a professional team. In the grand scheme of things, that last statement doesn’t mean a hill of beans. We would still be doing the things that make us, us. We would still be getting involved in the recovery efforts, the humanitarian aid, and the volunteering, all while maintaining that great Oklahoma spirit.
We would have completely understood if the Oklahoma City Thunder players would have just tweeted their well wishes and disbelief about the disaster, donated a couple bucks here and there, and given us their support from afar. They were just starting their offseason after a disappointing post season run that included a season ending injury to one of their superstars. And the reality is that most athletes don’t live in the city where they play year round. After exit interviews, the players usually disperse to their various hometowns for their offseason. We wouldn’t have held it against them if they would’ve stayed away from the disaster zone.
There’s an understanding when it comes to the athlete/fan relationship. We, the fans, cheer the athletes on to no end, and, in return, the athletes acknowledge our fandom in their interviews and in social media. It becomes almost scripted when athletes mention their fans as being the best fans in their league or when they say that the crowd played a major role in their comeback. It’s something that the Oklahoma media, and the media, in general, loves to play up.
But in our darkest hour, though, there was a bit of a role reversal. The players came out and cheered us on. As soon as the enormity of everything became apparent, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Derek Fisher, Serge Ibaka, Perry Jones III, Nick Collison, and our old friend James Harden, were tweeting and instragramming their well wishes and prayers out to us. If it would have ended there, that would have been awesome. Then, Kendrick Perkins (you know, the player whose head a lot of OKC fans want on their amnesty plate) set up a donation spot at a local OKC store. And if it would’ve ended there, it would have been great.
Then Durant stepped it up and donated $1 million dollars to the relief efforts. And Perkins donated $25K to help build future storm shelters. And Russell Westbrook, Hasheem Thabeet, DeAndre Liggins, Jeremy Lamb, and coach Scott Brooks visited OU Childrens’ Hospital to bring some rays of sunshine to children who had probably just witnessed their darkest hour. This spurred the Thunder organization and many of their corporate sponsors to donate millions of dollars in aid. If it would’ve ended there, that would have been the best.
Then the guys actually started showing up in Moore and walking through the debris and rubble, lending support to those crestfallen by the tornado. You saw Kevin Durant walking around giving encouraging words to those that supported him. You saw Russell Westbrook hobbling around on crutches giving support to those that needed it, even if it was in verbal form. General manager Sam Presti walked around doing his part to help out. CoachBrooks, Thabeet, Thabo Sefolosha, and native son Daniel Orton could also be seen lending their support throughout Moore. Nike, through their association with Durant, agreed to donate a million dollars worth of merchandise to help in the healing process.
And this is just what we’ve heard. Only the person giving actually knows what they have given. During many of the pregame videos in the past few years, the focus has always been about how the values of Oklahomans mesh with the values of the Thunder organization. Resiliency, Team, Together, Team is One, Community. I used to think those were just prompt words to make the team feel more “Okie-centric”. Words aimed at our civil subconscious to make us love the team more. But in the end, the players on the team have shown those values to be true amongst themselves and amongst the team.
As a realist, I know that one day, someone on the Thunder will rip our innocence from us. Be it one of our players being charged in a criminal case or a long drawn out contract negotiation in which a superstar will want out of OKC and into a bigger market. That day will come. But for right now, these player have kept our innocence intact. These players have shown their Okie values to be true. We’ve been with them through thick and thin, and now, they have reciprocated that support in our darkest hour. In the athlete/fan relationship, that very rarely happens.
Text “REDCROSS” to 90999 for $10 donation to help tornado victims in Moore, Shawnee, and OKCNow That's Thunder Basketball