An international charity represented by Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha is helping to forge a connection among three countries.
An Oscar Night party organized by Sefolosha and his wife, Bertille, included about 200 guests, who came from as far away as Switzerland to raise money to help children in South Africa.
The $50,000 the event raised and the links formed illustrate a broader perspective that the Oklahoma City Thunder has helped bring to the community since the team's arrival in 2008.
Thabo and Bertille Sefolosha organized “A Night for Africa” along with hosts Tina and Stephen Dobson, who opened their Gaillardia home for the event.
In addition to the $50,000, the Sefoloshas are contributing $30,000 more to create a new youth sports and mentoring program for about 200 underprivileged children in the South African Township of Mamelodi. To get it done, they're working with the Swiss foundation IMBEWU, which establishes youth sports programs throughout South Africa.
IMBEWU recently named Thabo Sefolosha to succeed tennis champion Roger Federer as its international spokesman. Thabo Sefolosha said the latest project means a lot to him because Mamelodi is his father's hometown.
“I know a lot of people don't know a lot about South Africa. ... I'm guessing that some people might have a hard time pointing it out on a map,” Thabo Sefolosha joked at the event as he started his presentation on the project and thanked guests for their generosity. “I don't blame you because I couldn't point out Oklahoma City when I got here.”
These days, the Thunder is putting Oklahoma City on maps of people who previously had no connection to this state or even this country. And the people of this city are leaving their impression on players like Thabo Sefolosha who come from elsewhere and now call Oklahoma City home.
“We wanted to involve his new community,” said Thabo's wife, Bertille, who was born in Cameroon and raised in France. “I was really happy by the generosity of the community. It was really a blessing.”
Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said he came to the event to support the Sefoloshas in their efforts to give back to the community.
He praised Thunder players for supporting both the local community and philanthropic causes elsewhere, and said the couple's venture is “not surprising given their values and their willingness to help.”
Presti also noted that the Thunder leads the NBA in the number of community appearances it has made to support local nonprofit organizations — more than 500 since the team arrived. Although the NBA requires its teams to provide a certain amount of community support, Presti said many players donate time and money beyond the requirements.
“I think the amount of community support that our organization received is a driving force behind our players' desire to be involved in the community in which they live. It's truly a team effort in Oklahoma City,” he said. “Our guys are committed to the city and understand how fortunate they are to have the support.”At the “Night for Africa” party, guests arrived on the red carpet with cameras flashing and cameras rolling in an Academy Award-like atmosphere. They mingled with the Sefoloshas and guests that included Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, former Thunder player Desmond Mason; Cincinnati Bengals safety Roy Williams, New England Patriot wide receiver Wes Welker; Yannick Boillod of IMBEWU; and Kim Bohuny and Brooks Meek, senior vice president and vice president, respectively, of the NBA's international basketball operations.
Organizers and sponsors included Naifeh Fine Jewelry, La Baguette Bistro, Central Liquor Co., and Advanced Aesthetic.
Tina Dobson said she and her husband are happy to help give children a voice because she didn't always have one growing up; hosting the party gave them a chance to help out internationally in addition to what they do locally. She added that the city has broadened its horizons with the Thunder, MAPS improvements and other growth.
“All of that together is bringing our city to a heightened sense of the world around here,” she said.
TO DONATE For more information about the event or updates about the program, please visit http://www.thabosefolosha.com. To make a tax-deductible donation to IMBEWU, please visit https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=22316 or write a check to CAF – America, note in the memo field it is for IMBEWU-USA, and send them to 717 Crystal Creek Place, Edmond, OK, 73034 so members of the local event-organizing committee can process the tax-deductible checks through the United States and send the donations to IMBEWU.