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Oklahoma tornadoes: Thunder reverses the role, takes a turn at cheering on the community

Big games and big shots and the NBA Finals are great fun. But when a few tall fellows, and a couple of short ones, can counter despair, can put smiles on faces and sparkles in eyes, well, that's more valuable than a truckload of O'Brien trophies.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 23, 2013

A man digging through the rubble Wednesday found one of the most precious things you can find after a tornado turns your life and your belongings upside down.

Pictures of your kids.

And Sam Presti was there to celebrate with him.

“He just kind of grabbed them, looked down at them,” Presti said. “I put my hand on his shoulder and said, ‘How about that? Congratulations.' I can't remember what I said. I remember feeling very fortunate to be there to see that.”

Oklahoma cheers on the Thunder. Now the Thunder is cheering on Oklahoma.

Oh, cheer's not the right word. Cheering up is more like it. When Kevin Durant walked through neighborhoods with the American Red Cross, and Presti, Thabo Sefolosha, Scotty Brooks, Daniel Orton, Hasheem Thabeet and Russell Westbrook, crutches and all, toured the ravaged areas, I'd say it was the best moment of Oklahoma City's seven NBA seasons.

Affinity for the Thunder is indisputable. Thunder gear made up maybe 10 percent of the wardrobe I saw worn by the displaced people milling around what once was their homes.

Big games and big shots and the NBA Finals are great fun. But when a few tall fellows, and a couple of short ones, can counter despair, can put smiles on faces and sparkles in eyes, well, that's more valuable than a truckload of O'Brien trophies.

“It was moving for us because it became so clear that the resolve and the optimism that existed within these people was far greater than the devastation that they were standing on,” Presti said. “To see the perspective and the faith that existed, under the circumstances, was inspirational and truly made you want to be a better neighbor.”

Well there you have it. The Thunder general manager discovered what a lot of us have learned talking to people whose material goods lie in ruins. You hope you can make them feel better. They end up making you feel better.

Presti even declared it. Maybe he's said it before, but I haven't heard it this straight: “I'm an Oklahoman. This is where I live and this is what we do.”

Presti trumps Mary Fallin in talking about the Oklahoma Standard. He's long talked about what a special place this is, which is odd for a guy reared in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

When Presti first arrived in OKC, it was hard to put too much stock in his words.

Schmoozing the new market. But he's backed up his talk.

Presti gets emotional when he talks about Oklahoma. And he puts his words to action.

He and a Thunder entourage visited Children's Hospital on Tuesday night. They couldn't get into the tornado areas, so they went to visit injured kids.

Westbrook, in a wheelchair, and Thabeet and Jeremy Lamb blew bubbles and handed out prizes and maybe for a few minutes made people forget their sorrow. Maybe gave some people a memory they won't try to forget. The only players in town who didn't go were Kendrick Perkins and Thabo, who were collecting donations and goods at KWTV.

Then the Thunder toured devastated neighborhoods and command posts Wednesday, and Presti accompanied the governor to a Moore shelter Wednesday night.

Long day. Long, but rewarding.

Presti said he's never before been exposed to such destruction.

“We understand the Oklahoma Standard and stand ready to serve the people that have supported us,” Presti said.

“When our players run out of the tunnel wearing Oklahoma City across their chest, that doesn't end after 82 games.”

Thunder fans weren't the only people wearing Thunder gear at Ground Zero. The Thunder entourage did, too.

Presti, Brooks and the players wore leftover T-shirts from one of the playoff games. White T-shirts. With a word across the front.

“Community.”

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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