DeMarco Williams writes about the NBA for slamonline.com. He visited Oklahoma City for a Thunder game awhile back and came away mostly impressed.
"The place is rockin’. Jeezy is blasting from the PA system. These Oklahomans know how to party ... and they know how to pray, too. Right before tip, in fact, a reverend goes to center court and has a prayer.
"The Ford Center’s lights are dimmed. Just about every head is bowed. It’s unreal. I’ve never seen a stadium-wide prayer at a pro sporting event. It’s the weirdest thing.”
Not in Oklahoma, it’s not.
We play hard here in the Bible Belt, but we pray hard, too.
"I loved it,” said the Rev. Wendy Lambert of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, who prayed before a recent Thunder game. "I’m a big sports fan. That was a real treat for me, getting to pray at such a venue.
"Provides the best of both worlds. I love God, but I love sports, too. It’s unique for Oklahoma. Says a lot for our state that we hold that value.”
It’s actually not unique to Oklahoma. The Thunder got the idea from the Hornets, who brought the pre-game prayer from New Orleans and still use it back in the Big Easy.
"Not withstanding your affiliation, we thought it was a reflection of the values of Oklahomans,” said Thunder chairman Clay Bennett.
The Thunder uses a variety of clergy and offers only a couple of guidelines: keep it to 30 seconds and don’t offend anyone. The former is more difficult than the latter.
"I wanted to be inclusive,” said the Rev. M.L. Jemison of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church. "They wanted me to be respectful of all religions.
"It was somewhat of a generic prayer. It had Christian overtones. It was not explicit as far as language I would use at my church, but I didn’t compromise any principles.”
The 30 seconds can be a problem. Lambert typed out a prayer she thought was concise but mentioning everyone from the referees to the Nicholson-seat waiters. Then she timed it; 90 seconds. Some serious editing was needed.