Royal Ivey soaked up the scene around him. The bronze chairs lining the gently sloping grass. The reflecting pool stretching out like a sheet of glass. The massive gates standing guard.
And in that moment, he understood.
The veteran guard had come to Oklahoma City two summers ago for something of a recruiting trip. The Thunder wanted to sign him as a free agent, but first, he wanted to get a feel for the franchise and the city. When Thunder general manager Sam Presti picked him up from the airport, Ivey asked what it was like playing here.
Presti took him straight to the Oklahoma City Memorial.
To understand this city and its people, you must first understand the impact of what happened on that hallowed ground.
Ivey felt it that scorching afternoon as he stood where the bomb had exploded nearly 15 years earlier.
“I was stunned,” he said.
His eyes moistened a bit.
“That's why every time I get to show somebody else, I take them there.”
Throughout this coming week, we will bring you stories about the runners who will take part in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon next Sunday. More than 22,000 have already registered.
Why are they running?
That is a question we explore every year, and what we've found is that every runner has a different story, a personal reason for lacing their shoes and hitting the streets. But ultimately, all of them are running this marathon because of the memorial and everything for which it stands.
Every dollar of every registration goes to the memorial. Without the marathon, the memorial could not continue its mission of remembering those who died and comforting those who remain.
Sometimes, we need a reminder of just how special a place it is.
How powerful, too.
The Thunder has made going to the memorial a part of new employee orientation, if you will, from the beginning. That includes players, coaches, staff and anyone else on the franchise's payroll.
“When we first arrived in 2008, we felt it was really important that we understood where we were,” Presti said. “If you're going to represent a community ... it was imperative that we spent time understanding the history.
“Obviously, the memorial is a gateway.”
Presti knew that from firsthand experience. He was the director of player personnel for the San Antonio Spurs when he spent a few days in Oklahoma City for the McDonald's All-American Game in 2004. A museum and history buff, he decided to go to the memorial one afternoon.
The impression was lasting.
Four years later, Presti was back in Oklahoma City as the general manager of the relocating Sonics. He was trying to prepare the way for the soon-to-be Thunder while also thinking about the big picture.