Sam Presti's most gratifying moment was not when the streamers fell from the Chesapeake Arena rafters Wednesday night.
Nor when James Harden sank those backbreaking 3-pointers in crunch time of Games 5 and 6 against the Spurs.
Presti's most gratifying moment was not when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook signed contract extensions that guaranteed the Thunder's competitiveness deep into the decade.
Nor even when Clay Bennett handed his franchise's basketball reins to a 29-year-old kid who was younger than half his players.
Sam Presti's most gratifying moment was when the Seattle SuperSonics' equipment manager said, sure, I'll come to Oklahoma City.
* * *
Marc St. Yves was a Seattle lifer. Even had lived all his 41 years in the same West Seattle neighborhood.
A SuperSonics ball boy at age 13 in 1979-80, the season after the Sonics won their only NBA title. Their equipment manager five years later.
By 2008, St. Yves was approaching his 29th NBA season. He was Mister Sonic. Still a young man, but full of institutional and league knowledge. The answer man. The glue guy. A conduit between players and management and coaches.
“He's a guy that's seen it all,” said the Thunder's Nick Collison, a Sonic rookie back in 2003-04. “He's got great stories.
“Just been a guy that's kind of always been there. Been a great asset to the organization for sure.”
Mister Sonic actually hadn't been a big basketball fan as a kid. Didn't really follow the championship team of Gus Williams and Jack Sikma and Downtown Freddie Brown. Didn't even know basketball rules, really. But in '79, the Sonics' equipment manager, who had married a girl who lived across the street from St. Yves, needed a ball boy.
St. Yves' first game was an exhibition doubleheader at the old Kingdome. “I was absolutely scared to death,” St. Yves said. “But I remember my dad told me, ‘Doesn't matter what you know. If you work hard, things will work out.'”
St. Yves worked hard. Became a loyal comrade to players and staff alike.
“They're not co-workers,” St. Yves said. “They're family members. That's the part that's not like a job. They're friends. They're not former players.”
Nate McMillan played on Seattle's 1996 NBA Finals team, then became a successful Sonic coach. St. Yves says he and McMillan “are basically like brothers.”
But in summer 2006, Bennett and his Oklahoma partners bought the Sonics and hired Presti as general manager.
St. Yves gave Presti and his new coach, P.J. Carlesimo, a tour of the Sonic practice facility.
“He was like, ‘I want to change this place,'” St. Yves said. He thought Presti meant physically. “No,” said Presti, “we need to change this place.”
Said St. Yves, “He wasn't putting new paint on things. He was changing things. I hadn't seen things like that in all my years.”
Part of the purchase agreement was that Seattle had one year to produce a new arena deal. That didn't happen, Bennett announced his intentions to move the franchise to Oklahoma City and the city of Seattle filed suit to keep the Sonics in town. The sides settled in July 2008, and Presti immediately hopped on a plane from Seattle to Orlando, where the Sonics' summer-league team was competing.
Presti didn't plan to offer a job in OKC to every staffer on the basketball side. But he wanted St. Yves.
“He's an integral part of our operation, and not just because he's skilled at what he does, or knows the league, but because he truly cares about the organization,” Presti said. “I trust him explicitly with anything. He's got a great sense of our culture.”
In Orlando, Presti asked St. Yves to come to Presti's hotel room.
He didn't know if St. Yves would accept. A West Seattle lifer. A Sonic ball boy. Loyal to the green and gold.
Why would someone with those kinds of roots sign on for a job in far-off Oklahoma?
* * *
The 2007-08 season was hard on everyone in Seattle. Fans. The city. Players. Staff members.
Presti, particularly. He calls it a “sugarless” season. A lonely, trying, difficult year. Lots of blank stares from his new employees, who wondered not only about the possible move of the franchise but this 29-year-old boss intent on changing things.
When Presti asked St. Yves to the hotel room, St. Yves wasn't sure what to expect.
“I didn't know if I was going to have a future with the organization,” St. Yves said. “I wanted the opportunity.”
Presti asked, and St. Yves enthusiastically accepted.
“Sam, let me convince you, I feel your vision, what the future of this franchise is,” St. Yves said he told Presti. “I don't want to miss it.”
Four years later, Presti still gets choked up talking about that moment.
He couldn't promise 50 wins. Couldn't promise that this kid down at UCLA would make a great sidekick to Durant. Couldn't promise that streamers soon would fall.
“Couldn't promise him anything other than building a first-class program,” Presti said. “The thing that touched me, he bought in at a time he didn't have to.”
The Sonics were coming off a 20-win season. Only 23 wins awaited that first Oklahoma City year.
“My score card that year was the quality of the people,” Presti said. “I have a real deep belief in people, and I'm optimistic about people that want to be a part of something.”
St. Yves wanted to be a part. The players were under contract. The coaches are NBA vagabonds. But the kid from West Seattle didn't have to buy into Presti's vision. And did.
“I don't think he knows how much that meant to me,” Presti said. “I've told him, but I'm not sure he understands.”
No, St. Yves admits today, probably not.
“It was a big decision in my life,” St. Yves said. “My head was spinning. Obviously my family was going to be impacted. I had put so much of my life into the organization.”
But St. Yves says something that tells you why Presti wanted him so: “It kind of goes with my lifelong philosophy. I'm loyal to that logo. Whoever owns that logo … that's who I'm loyal to.
“On top of that, I thought, ‘hey, this is going in the right direction. It was a gut. I didn't know, but I felt it was going to a point where we are sitting here today.”
Presti isn't the only one who gets choked up. St. Yves caught his voice when saying, “Times like this … it's so gratifying to know I made the right choice.”
St. Yves now is the Thunder's director of team operations. Still oversees the equipment but also coordinates travel and basically operates the Thunder practice facility.
Presti, who not so long ago washed towels and stocked the fridge and ran errands for the Spurs, has an appreciation for staff members out of the spotlight.
“It's people like that who make your program go,” Presti said of St. Yves. “It's people like that who uphold your culture, that put the players first. I have an appreciation for people who are the glue for you.”
And so when the streamers fell Wednesday night, and Presti took it all in, his eyes settled on St. Yves.
“Seeing Saint after the game, I couldn't help but think, ‘This guy deserves this,'” Presti said. “I was really happy for him. I felt good about the fact he was going back to the Finals.
“I'm not sure I can ever repay his belief.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.