Robert Yanders set up his launch much like the 93 hopefuls before him.
Turning to the crowd. Raising his arms. Pleading for encouragement.
This contestant, however, would really give the crowd something to cheer.
Yanders on Sunday night became the first fan in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s history to sink a halfcourt shot for $20,000. His heave came midway through the second period of the Thunder’s blowout win against Cleveland. And it produced pure pandemonium inside the Oklahoma City Arena.
Yanders raced from halfcourt toward the scorer’s table, eyes wide, mouth open, arms raised looking for someone to celebrate with. Russell Westbrook, arms also raised by then, looked willing to initiate an embrace. Kevin Durant, too. But Yanders zipped right and finally found a familiar face. He jumped into the arms of Thunder house emcee Joel Decker while 18,000 roared in appreciation.
“It happened so fast,” Yanders said of the shot. “I remember being asked (in the tunnel) what kind of shot will you shoot, a two-hand shot or a one-handed shot? I just said I’m going to shoot it as if I really wanted it to go in. And that’s what I did, man. And it went it.”
Yanders, 31, of Springfield, Mo. sat in Section 107 and was randomly selected for the contest. He said he originally didn’t want to do it when asked. But after a little encouragement from his wife, Jennifer, he decided to give it a try.
“I was kind of embarrassed at first,” said Yanders, who still couldn’t control his hands from shaking while trying to sign the Thunder’s necessary paperwork minutes after the shot. “My wife was like, ‘Do it.’ So I did it and this is what happened. This is unbelievable. This is unbelievable.”
Yanders actually plays professional basketball overseas after competing at Missouri State. He’s played nine seasons overseas, all in Great Britain, and said he competed with Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng and Detroit Pistons guard Ben Gordon on the Great Britain National Team this past summer.
Yanders estimated that Sunday was the first time he’s attended an NBA game in about eight years. His tickets were a Christmas gift. They turned into a gift that will keep on giving.
“I get to go do a little shopping for the family,” said Yanders when asked how he’ll spend the money. “Get to enjoy Christmas with my wife a little bit more. Do a little bit more than normal. Just enjoy it. Spend it the best way possible. I’m not a man that needs much. I don’t want much. But it’s good to have it just in case.”