Despite a failed run for top honors in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder remains a champion team to several local residents who found compassion in it during times of critical need.
Sometimes it came in ceremonial fashion — a midcourt presentation at a sold-out game. For others it was a financial boost, in the form of toys or groceries for families in need. More often than not, it was just a simple act of acknowledgment.
At least one local teen said the team's compassion has been a lifesaver.
Lorelei Decker, 17, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in January. The next month, she started undergoing chemotherapy to shrink a tumor 11 centimeters in diameter found in her chest.
By April, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Decker found herself calling plays on the sidelines for the Thunder.
Though the invitation was to coach for merely a day, the recent graduate of Putnam City North High School found herself working on behalf of the team through the NBA Finals and beyond.
“They asked me, ‘What do you love, what is your passion?', and one of the things I love is the Thunder,” she said. “It was surprising to me that I was so involved. I wasn't just overlooked as a child. I was involved.”
At first it was easy. Throw a few blocks here, work on rebounding there, she told them. She got close to the film coach, and her critiques got a little more pointed. Of course it's always easy when your team is winning.
As the losses started to stack up during the championship series, the duties felt more intense, she said. Decker, who texts words of encouragement to the team's coach, Scott Brooks, after each loss, found herself in tears as Game 5 came to a close Thursday.
“It's hard; it's hard to watch,” she said, echoing team star Kevin Durant. “And it's hard to watch from my perspective because the players are more than players; they're people. One thing I talked to Scott Brooks about — we're humbled and hungry, and that's hard to stop.”
Brooks texted back Friday morning.
“He said, ‘Thank you, what a year,' and he said, ‘See ya soon, Scott Brooks,'” Decker said, reading from her phone. “I thanked him and his coaching staff and the players for everything they have meant and done for me this season in the fight for my life.”