He has never seen the Oklahoma City Thunder play live, but Norman “Michael” Richards III is likely the team's most famous fan.
Support in the form of letters, cards and prayers have come in from across the state, but perhaps most meaningful of all has been the support from the team, said his mother, Elonda Quinn-Powell.
Richards, 22, remains in critical condition at OU Medical Center nearly three weeks after taking a bullet to the back during the shooting in Bricktown.
Richards was apparently shot at random by a stranger as he was walking back to his car after a watch party outside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Seven others were also shot, but only Richards suffered life-threatening injuries.
With his best friend, Xavier, in tow, Richards went to Thunder Alley that night because he's a die-hard sports fan and the Thunder is his favorite team, Quinn-Powell said. Now her son will watch his team play for a championship via the television in his room on the hospital's fifth floor.
Her son, a former all-city center fielder from Del City, is a fighter with a lot of spunk and a fan club of friends, she said. He is a role model with an infectious spirit, and will get through this, she said.
“His uncle put it plain and simple. He said, ‘This is what you've been trying for all your life, this fight right here,'” Quinn-Powell said. “I really believe he's going to overcome this.”
Richards, father to Javier, 3, and owner of as many as 150 pairs of tennis shoes, died twice the night he was shot. The first time he was revived was by bystanders on Reno Avenue, after the bullet went into his back, pierced his heart twice and never left his body. He was revived again a few hours later on the operating table, his mom said.
The 5½-hour surgery was his first of four, she said. Doctors removed one of his kidneys and portions of his small intestine, pancreas and stomach. They told the family he had a 20 percent chance of survival.
And until Wednesday, Richards' future remained uncertain as he rested in the hospital's intensive care unit. He opened his eyes a few days after the shooting, and even uttered a couple of strained whispers, but for the most part he was out.
“But I never had a doubt he was going to make it,” said his father, Norman Richards Sr. “Scared, terrified out of my mind — but I didn't have doubt.”
Michael Richards walked for the first time again May 29, his family said. Wednesday night he left the ICU, and since then his health has continued to improve. Richards is — for the most part — able to walk, talk and enjoy his games again, the family said.
“The main thing about this recovery is going to be about the mental aspect, not the physical aspect,” said his stepfather, Gary Powell. “He knows in his mind because he's an athlete that he can do this, but he is going to need to be reminded of all the support he has. Although Michael is mature, he's still a kid — he's still processing this in his mind.”
He doesn't remember
The family has talked to Richards about the events that led to his hospitalization, but he does not remember being shot. His last memory that night is leaving Thunder Alley just a few minutes before the game was over.
“I said, ‘You died and they brought you back,' and you could see tears was just rolling,” Quinn-Powell said. “He's not a big crier, but I told him it's OK.”
On Saturday, Quinn-Powell, Powell and Richards Sr., gathered in a hospital waiting room to talk about their son's recovery. Michael Richards still is not interested in sharing his story with the media, they said.
Doctors are keeping a close eye on Richards, but the major procedures are likely behind him, they said. After he leaves the hospital he will undergo intensive rehabilitation that could last 18 months.
The family said the event has given them an opportunity to pause and think about the significance of their children's lives. Richards has a 28-year-old sister, Sophia, and an entourage of friends.
About 75 of them — mostly girls — were lined up down the hospital corridor when Quinn-Powell arrived at OU Medical Center from Minden, La., where she and Powell live. The entourage showed up in full force again for a blood drive at Quail Springs Mall on May 27.
“For this to happen to Michael and he's a very good kid — this shows it could happen to anyone's kid, anyone's child,” Quinn-Powell said.
Thunder representatives have showed up at the hospital several times since the shooting, but on Friday Richards got a personal visit from one of the players. The family won't say who it was, but they said the visit meant a lot to their son.
“That's my wife and she couldn't even tell me who it was,” Powell said. “We're very humble people and we're just thankful of what they do.”
The team has provided moral support as well as hats and T-shirts, said Quinn-Powell. A new pair of orange and blue Nike N7 Zoom KDIV's — Thunder star Kevin Durant's signature line — brings Richards' tennis shoe collection to 151, the elder Richards said.
But perhaps the most significant memento Richards will take from the experience is the T-shaped scar that runs down the front of his chest.
While other fans line up for Thunder tattoos and knickknacks to remind them of the team's unprecedented season, Richards — surrounded by friends and family at the hospital two miles northwest of Chesapeake Energy Arena — takes with him a relic he'll remember for a lifetime.
“We'll have a real Thunder tattoo,” his dad said.
I really believe he's going to overcome this.”