Oklahoma City sixth-grader Tara Homer couldn't contain her excitement Tuesday at the City Rescue Mission. Tara brought her hands to her face to partially cover a wide smile as she gasped with glee at the sight of her favorite athlete.
â€œI can't believe that's Kevin Durant in the kitchen,â€ Tara, 11, said of the Thunder's star forward.
Thunder players, coaches and staff members gathered at the mission Tuesday evening to serve an early Thanksgiving dinner to local homeless and near-homeless families.
They also shot some hoops with the children.
The team walked into the mission's cafeteria to raucous applause and mingled with about 200 people, passing out drinks and plates of food and stopping to shake hands, chat and take pictures.
â€œI love the organization I'm with, because it firmly believes in giving back to the community,â€ Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
â€œIt's a thrill to be able to give back to people who care about our team.â€
Serge Ibaka, the Thunder's 21-year-old forward from the Congo, is spending his second Thanksgiving in the U.S. and said his native country has a similar holiday, making it easy for him to appreciate the family and community spirit.
â€œI have fun,â€ Ibaka said as children craned their necks with mouths agape at the sight of the 6-foot-10-inch player.
â€œYou get to see a lot of people and show them some love. It's a nice thing to do.â€
Tara's father, Tony Magana, 32, of Oklahoma City, said the players' willingness to help and obvious joy when dealing with children make him proud of his city.
Magana was joined by his 5-year-old son, Jayson.
â€œIt makes a big difference to a lot of people,â€ Magana said.
â€œIt means a lot that they care about us, and I know we care about them.â€
The event might be the only Thanksgiving celebration the team gets in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder leaves Thursday for a game Friday in Indianapolis.
Reserve forward Nick Collison, the team's longest-tenured player, said the team may get together with the family of a staff member who is from Indiana.
But Collison, who said his typical role at Thanksgiving dinner is that of dishwasher, said Tuesday's dinner at the mission provides the same kind of fun they'd have at their own celebration at home.
â€œThat's one of the really cool things about our job, that we get to help out people in the community,â€ he said.