“Our focus has always been on building a franchise, not just a team,” he said. “A big part of that, I think, is being part of the community and understanding the community in which you live and represent.”
No doubt that winning is the best way for a team to endear itself to fans, but on-court success can be fleeting. The Thunder wanted to sink its roots deeper than that.
To do that, the franchise's people needed to understand the impact of the bombing. The lives it took and the lives it touched. The scars it left and the rebirth it spurred.
That meant going to the museum on the memorial grounds, hearing the recording of the bomb's blast, seeing a clock with its hands frozen at 9:02, watching video footage from those chaotic minutes, hours and days afterward.
Then there are the faces.
Walking into the Gallery of Honor stops even the biggest, baddest NBA player in his tracks. There is a picture of every man, woman and child killed in the bombing displayed with a memento from their family.
The impact is profound.
A recent addition to the Thunder family toured the memorial a few weeks ago. Recently uprooted and relocated, she seemed stressed. Down in the dumps a little bit, too.
But by the time her tour was over, her entire outlook had changed.
“It changes a lot,” Thunder guard Daequan Cook said of going to the memorial. “When you know you're going to be here for awhile, when you know you're going to be in this community for awhile, there are certain things you want to know.
“Us going to the bombing gave us the opportunity to really see where (the city) came from.”
Plenty of other businesses with local ties send out-of-towners to the memorial. When our sports department was in the process of hiring several new writers last summer, we started asking candidates who had come in to interview if they wanted to see the memorial. Three said yes. One said no.
We hired two of the candidates who wanted to tour the memorial.
They got it.
And after seeing the memorial, they got so much more.
“Every time I go, I get a different experience,” Ivey said. “What went on that day was devastating to this community and to the state of Oklahoma.”
Maybe the heartbreak and the healing is why the Thunder guard keeps going back to the memorial. He's taken his parents, his girlfriend and several friends to the grounds. In less than two years, he's been five times.
While he wants those close to him to experience the memorial — the chairs, the pool, the gates — the trips aren't only because of them.
They're also because of what it means to Royal Ivey.