TULSA — Choosing to support superfan and honorary assistant coach Lorelei Decker, Thunder coach Scott Brooks did not attend his team's Blue and White scrimmage on Thursday night at the SpiritBank Event Center in Tulsa.
Brooks instead accompanied Decker and her parents to Phoenix, where their unique bond was recognized with a national award.
Make-A-Wish America selected the Thunder as one of its Chris Greicius Celebrity Award recipients for being “generous supporters of Make-A-Wish Oklahoma, providing tickets for wish families to attend games, recognizing generous supporters and donating auction items for local events. They recently granted a wish for 17-year-old Lorelei, during which she was made honorary team captain and spent time with head coach Scott Brooks and players.”
“She's a friend,” Brooks said before departure Thursday via a private plane alongside Decker, her mother (Andrea) and father (Kevin) and various officials with Make-A-Wish and the Thunder. “I'm not doing this for myself or the Thunder. I'm doing it for her. It's going to be a great trip. I thought it was important to go. She's given us more than we'll be giving her.”
Decker, 17, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma last January and has undergone chemotherapy to shrink an 11-centimeter tumor found in her chest. Thursday's trip came roughly 12 hours before Decker was to begin a bone marrow/stem cell procedure on Friday.
"There's no question she is an inspiration to all of us," Brooks said. "Her determination, her courage, her spirit has captivated all of us. This was an opportunity to be with Lorelei and give her the support and encouragement to stay strong and continue to fight the way she has."
The travel party was scheduled to return to Oklahoma City around 3 a.m. Friday. Brooks planned to drive to Tulsa for a 10 a.m. shootaround practice in preparation for the Thunder's preseason game Friday against the Phoenix Suns at 7 p.m. at the BOK Center, where a record crowd of 18,233 is expected.
Decker said she was stunned Brooks skipped Thursday's scrimmage to attend the ceremony.
“I think that's crazy,” Decker said. “Oh, my gosh. I'm so excited it got to work out so I could go. I'm doing pretty well. It's kind of day-by day. It gets tougher as you go through treatments. This chemo is no joke that I've been doing and it's only preparation for what I'm going to go through this next week. I'm a tough girl, but it's pretty hard.”
Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Thunder, Decker was allowed to call plays on the sidelines during OKC's home game against the Sacramento Kings, a 118-110 victory on April 24. Earlier that day, Decker spent the morning with Thunder players and coaches. Thereafter, many OKC players wore a bright green wristband in honor of Decker, a Putnam City North graduate.
Since that initial meeting, Brooks and Decker stayed in touch via phone calls and text messages throughout the summer and fall. Brooks recalled seeing Decker among thousands of fans who have greeted the team at the airport during the playoffs.
Asked about this year's team, Decker said: “I'm so excited because it's really cool when you follow the same team for a couple of years and see the younger guys kind of step up, to see their game evolve. I'm excited that (guard) Eric Maynor is back, really excited.”
Will the Thunder win the NBA title this season?
“You have to work for it, but my fingers are crossed. I'll say that much,” Decker said. “I don't know if I have the expectation that we'll win, but I do have the hope that we'll win because it's something you have to earn.”
Other Celebrity Award winners were singer Katy Perry, actress/singer Selena Gomez and surfer Bethany Hamilton. Pro wrestler John Cena received special recognition for owning the Make-A-Wish record with more than 300 wishes.
Make-A-Wish® grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. According to a 2011 U.S. study of wish impact, most health professionals surveyed believe a wish-come-true can have positive impacts on the health of children. Kids say wishes give them renewed strength to fight their illnesses, and their parents say these experiences help strengthen the entire family. Based in Phoenix, Make-A-Wish is one of the world's leading children's charities, serving children in every community in the United States and its territories. With the help of generous donors and more than 25,000 volunteers, Make-A-Wish grants a wish somewhere in the country every 38 minutes. It has granted more than 212,000 wishes since its inception in 1980; nearly 14,000 in 2011 alone. Visit Make-A-Wish at.