Connecting with the Manchester Community

MANCHESTER – Fans are often impressed by what Thunder players can do on the court, but on Monday four of the team’s players came away from a basketball game and were in awe of what they experienced.

As a part of NBA Cares, the Thunder engaged in an outreach event at Manchester’s Phones 4u Arena as Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher and Rodney McGruder coached a team of Special Olympians and NBA Legends to a 28-26 victory over a team coached by three Philadelphia 76ers players. To see the basketball skills and talents of the Special Olympians was an incredible experience for the Thunder and all those in the arena.

14 local Special Olympics athletes were selected to participate, chosen from Special Olympics –Great Britain and the Manchester City Council based on their love for the game and how they exemplified teamwork and unity. Seven of those athletes played for the Thunder-coached squad, alongside former NBA players Peja Stojakovic and John Amaechi, the latter of whom grew up in a southern suburb of Manchester called Heaton Moor. The game was a fun affair that displayed both the athletes basketball talents and their sportsmanship.

“We work with Special Olympics a lot in the US and then the last week here and in Turkey, and it is fun because the players are always excited and have a lot of energy,” Collison said.

“It’s fun for us too,” he continued. “The community has been great to us since we’ve been here so it’s good for us to do something back to give back to the community here in Manchester.”

The Thunder’s squad won 28-26 on a buzzer-beating three-point heave by Stojakovic, but the vast majority of the scoring was done by the Special Olympics athletes. With unselfish passing and timely shooting, the athletes managed to find easy buckets, and even scored a few times over former pro Dikembe Mutombo. Afterwards, Collison joked that it was his coaching strategy to attack the former defensive whiz all along.

“We told our guys you have to go at a shot blocker, so we want to take it right at his nose,” Collison said with a wry smile. “We had a couple people do that and it worked for us.”

The event at the arena was festive and a light-hearted environment thanks to the attendance of Rumble and the Thunder Girls, but it wasn’t the only outreach the Thunder took part in on Monday. At a different event at the Printworks area of Manchester, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeremy Lamb and Hasheem Thabeet all participated in a meet-and-greet at a Fan Zone with local citizens.

As the Thunder winds down the last couple days of its international trip with events meant to spark interest in the game of basketball globally, players were able to reflect on the impact of these types of events. Coming overseas, the team’s mission was to continue getting better and work hard as a continuation of its training camp.

A bonus result has been the way the team has also made an impression off the floor as a part of the NBA’s pursuit to involve the entire world in the game of basketball.

“I think the NBA wants to get more involved in these different areas in the world,” Collison explained. “When we bring our basketball we bring our charity and our program, NBA Cares, comes with us. I imagine the more we’re able to do globally, the more NBA Cares events will be able to help the community as well.”