Community work truly has no borders for the Thunder.
Teammates Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich frequently exchanged laughter Thursday as they shared viewpoints about their latest community project.
Their voices could be heard through the static of teleconference call from Johannesburg, South Africa, seven hours and nearly 9,200 miles away from where they routinely make appearances in the greater Oklahoma City area.
From Thursday through Sunday, NBA Cares will hold the 10th edition of Basketball Without Borders in Africa, an outreach program with a contingent of current NBA and WNBA players, coaches and past players focused on grassroots basketball development, education, health and wellness. One highlight will be the Saturday dedication of the NBA Cares Legacy Project, a refurbished sports complex in Alex Township, one of the largest urban neighborhoods in South Africa.
Seven active NBA players are participating in this year's BWB, and four are with the Thunder.
The OKC organization has been deeply involved in community service since it arrived in the summer of 2008. Each player does a minimum of 12 community appearances every season, with a team average of 14 per player. With more than 200 appearances annually, the Thunder has ranked in the top 5 among NBA teams in community service the last three seasons.
Sefolosha was born in Switzerland to a Swiss mother and South African father and is no stranger to the country. Ibaka was born in Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, roughly 1,700 miles northwest of Johannesburg, and was making his first visit. Collison participated in the same BWB camp in 2008, while Aldrich is making his first trip to Africa, which included a safari in Kenya beforehand.
Explaining how the Thunder wound up with four volunteers for the project, Sefolosha said: “We talked about it during the year. It made sense for everybody and everybody was excited to do it.”
Sefolosha then took a playful swipe at Aldrich. “To be honest, Cole, I really don't know what he's doing here,” Sefolosha said as his teammates erupted in laughter.
Collison is fresh off a UNICEF field trip to Kenya and has been documenting his experience with a blog on NBA.com.
“I have an opportunity to travel and see the world and also do a good thing for a lot of kids, so I figure it's a no-brainer … something you don't want to pass up,” Collison said. “People here live entirely differently than a lot of people in our country. From my experience in 2008, it's been really inspirational in how they live, and they can still be happy and do things with their families in difficult living conditions. For me, that's a big part of a why I wanted to come. I wanted to do something positive for other people.”
Ibaka, who on Aug. 18 signed a four-year, $49-million extension with the Thunder, has gained notoriety in Africa with his meteoric rise in the NBA after just three seasons, plus winning a silver medal playing for Spain at the Olympic Games earlier this month.
Ibaka said he hopes his success translates to the people in Johannesburg and in his native Congo.
“They know who I am now,” Ibaka said. “For me to come back, it shows them that anything is possible.”
Sefolosha said BWB is about more than just basketball.
“It's to give them hope,” Sefolosha said. “It's about everything that comes along with life.”
Collison said he often reflects on his 2008 trip, which is why he chose to return.
“Where I grew up and what I always learned about people from this part of the world, you always hear all this vague information about people struggling, (how) people are having a hard time and children are dying of preventable diseases and things like that,” Collison said. “You always hear about that, but it's always vague information from very far away and you try to relate to it. To be able to come by and see it firsthand, I think that's what's most powerful for me. It makes it real. For me, to be able to see someone eye-to-eye and some of these conditions, it's an incredible experience.”