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How the Thunder reached a small village in Rwanda

A Peace Corps volunteer from Oklahoma City and a small boy in Africa bonded over what he knew about her home state: Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.
by Anthony Slater Published: September 3, 2013
/articleid/3879043/1/pictures/2199934">Photo - Luke, a boarding school student in Rwanda, wears his new Russell Westbrook shirt. He is an avid fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball superstar. PHOTO PROVIDED
Luke, a boarding school student in Rwanda, wears his new Russell Westbrook shirt. He is an avid fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball superstar. PHOTO PROVIDED

“It was definitely not something, coming to Rwanda, that I thought I'd have in common with an 18-year-old boy,” Dewey said. “But it just shows that the Thunder is huge. I live in the middle of nowhere. It's crazy that the Thunder is reaching these tiny, tiny areas in the heart of Africa.”

The two developed a bond over the next few months, grown through teaching but sparked by that initial basketball connection.

So when Betsy's father, Lyle, was coming to visit her in late July, they had an idea.

Lyle wanted to bring gifts for the students, and what would they enjoy more than Thunder gear?

Through word-of-mouth and Facebook, Lyle, an executive assistant at Bailey Oil in OKC, gathered donations at his work.

In all, he packed more than 60 Thunder shirts, to go along with banners, an official team basketball and other memorabilia.

Soccer is easily the country's most popular sport, but basketball has recently gained a little steam.

 Every weekday, the students get about an hour for physical activity. And a group of them commonly gather on an abandoned cement lot, an impromptu basketball court where a building was originally planned.

 The hoop isn't ideal, with no net or backboard, but it'll do.

And that's where Dewey had them congregate in late July, to meet her father and get a surprise gift.

 One-by-one, they handed out the shirts and other gear.

 “They were just elated, they were pumped, they were excited,” Betsy Dewey remembered. “And of course, Luke got a black T-shirt with Russell's face on it. And he's just obsessed with it. I swear, if he didn't have to wear a uniform to school, he would wear it every single day.”

Word got around the village and, soon, a crowd had gathered to watch the kids play, deep in the mountains of Africa, wearing Thunder shirts and using an OKC basketball.

“It was really special,” Lyle Dewey said.

“Luke will always try to make weird moves and say, ‘Look, I am like Russell',” Betsy Dewey laughed, adding that she sees the students playing basketball a lot more now.

“It's so weird,” she continued, “living in my village, it's probably about 2,000 people. And on the weekend, when the students don't have to wear their uniform, you see all these blue shirts that say ‘Let's go Thunder.'”

by Anthony Slater
Thunder Beat Writer
Anthony Slater started on the Thunder beat in the summer of 2013, joining after two years as's lead sports blogger and web editor. A native Californian, Slater attended Sonoma State for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State in...
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