In last Wednesday’s paper, as a preview to the Thunder-Spurs showdown, I wrote about the Thunder’s identity. More specifically, I examined how it has yet to be established. You can read that story here. It was a piece born of a quote Thunder general manager Sam Presti has said time and time again.
“The cement is not dry for the identity of the Thunder,” Presti says.
While I was able to get a good chunk of Presti’s thoughts on the topic in the story, he had plenty more to share. It’s a subject that is near and dear to his heart, as he continues to work tirelessly to set up the Thunder franchise for long-term success on and off the court. He calls himself and those he works with “caretakers” of the organization and said he considers it a responsibility but also a privilege to construct a foundation for this franchise that the community can be proud of now and in the future.
So without further ado, here are Presti’s uncut thoughts on the Thunder’s growing identity.
Q: Can you explain in greater detail what you mean when you say the cement is not dry on the Thunder identity?
When we arrived in Oklahoma in 2008 we did so with a vision to ultimately build, enhance and sustain a team, while also constructing an organization that had the endurance to accept the various cycles and challenges that exists in professional sports. The identity we are working to preserve and ultimately make synonymous with our logo is one based on community, resiliency, team and humility. Teams are continuously evolving day-to-day and year-to-year. However, organizations must support those teams in good and tough times, and serve as a compass of sorts allowing them to be guided by a set of clear foundational values. We want to ensure that our identity, when we reach the 10-year anniversary of the Thunder in Oklahoma, is consistent with the values set forth in Year 1. This will take discipline and resolve, and while we have achieved some success to date, we are still very early in our existence as an organization. We strongly believe that we are capable of building an organization of great endurance and civic pride in Oklahoma City, but I don’t think we can assume that something that meaningful and delicate can be achieved in five years.
How will we know when the cement dries?
We do not feel that there is a true finish line when striving for excellence. We want our organization to continuously learn, adapt and evolve. Our focus is on the process of building, enhancing and sustaining the organization and we accept the fact that there will likely be no silver-bullet moment that will allow us to achieve the kind of sustainability we feel is essential to building a team and organization in Oklahoma City. For us, it will be embracing the accumulation of incremental and marginal gains that build a foundation for lasting, year-in and year-out success. We want people who are with us to have their work last well beyond their tenure with the organization; we all realize we are caretakers of the organization and its values. We understand how rare it is to put the foundation in place for an organization and what the work signifies for our community now and in the future. We see it as much of a responsibility as a privilege.
What is your idea of sustained success?
Like every team in professional sports, our goal is to win a championship. We believe in order for us to achieve sustained success, we first have to put ourselves in position where year-in and year-out we are positioned to be among a handful of teams that believe that if they execute and have a little good fortune along the way can impact the post-season and be the last team standing. We feel that we are amongst that handful of teams currently, but we also want to ensure that our players and organization stay in that position for the foreseeable future. It is essentially trying to improve your odds of achieving your goals by allowing yourself increased opportunities.
You’ve often spoke about contributions from past and present players. What are their roles in helping the franchise establish the desired identity?
Simply put, without the character, and overall make-up of Kevin (Durant), Russell (Westbrook) and Nick (Collison), the guys that were a part of our first team in 2008, we would not be in the position we are as a team or organization. They have helped cultivate the identity of the organization, they have embraced our vision for the organization and much of it is only made possible by having people like them represent the logo day-in and day-out. We have had so many contributions from many players over the last five years, some have moved on and others, like Serge (Ibaka), Thabo (Sefolosha), Kendrick (Perkins) and Derek (Fisher) have built on the foundation and are leaving their own fingerprints. We believe we have another group of players coming through the organization that will uphold those standards in time as well. We are still building the traditions of the Thunder and we are thankful for the way each player that has worn the jersey has contributed to the program. They, along with our coaching staff, led by Scott (Brooks), have played a critical part in the building of an organization. They have true ownership of the culture and what the demands and standards are to be a Thunder player.
How might last year’s injury to Russell Westbrook, and the team’s subsequent second-round exit, shape the evolving identity?
To be able to accomplish the goal of sustainable success, you have to demonstrate that your organization possesses the trait of emotional resiliency. Success is not linear, and lasting success is often the product of the ability to recover from the unforeseen events and adversities that exists in sports. You have to have the resolve, optimism and belief to continue your march forward, and I think our players have demonstrated that over time. Although losing Russell at that specific point in time was difficult, I think we learned a lot about our team and our people. Coming into this year, we felt that we were positioned to continue to be amongst the contending teams even though we were coming off a disappointing finish. I think that is what lets you know that you are building something of substance, something beyond the present and, ultimately, sustainable.
How much of the franchise’s identity is built through the team’s work in and connection to the community? And has that been established?
We exist as a result of our community. We have planted both feet into our community efforts since Day 1. Our players have done over 1,250 community appearances and built a relationship with our community that is unique. With that said, we are not going to stop investing so deeply in the community simply because we have established that it is part of who we are. If we were to do that, then it would not be part of an authentic identity. That is what I mean when I say that the cement is not dry; we are so fortunate to have been involved with so many special people and organizations, but we have to continue our commitment and understand that will be the mark by which we are measured. We want to be able to continue our efforts and build on the foundation established in the first five seasons. The people that founded this state and those that have revitalized our city did not look for the path of least resistance, and given we strive to be the people’s team, we do not see any other way to approach it. Labor Conquers All Things is our state motto, and we are hopeful that our team and organization humbly represent this.