Thunder Honored by March of Dimes

In Oklahoma City, the sports community is a tight-knit circle. With numerous teams playing home games within a few blocks of one another in addition to high level collegiate and professional programs throughout the state, Oklahoma has a rich sports tradition.

On Thursday night, the Thunder joined the rest of that sports community for the 37th annual Mercy March of Dimes Sports Headliner Awards Banquet at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark for a wonderful night of fundraising for a worthy cause. At the banquet, General Manager Sam Presti accepted the Headliner Special Award on behalf of the Thunder’s efforts in the Oklahoma City community, which have included over 1100 player appearances over five seasons and a recent $1 million donation to tornado victims.

“It’s been an amazing five years for us in this community,” Presti said. “We (had) a vision for the team, and a big part of that has been a community and building a relationship there. We’re going to continue to try to strive and establish that moving forward.”

In addition to the Thunder as an organization, Russell Westbrook was honored with the Community Award and he, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka were honored for their performances in the 2012 London Olympics. Humbled by the accolades, Presti immediately heaped all of the credit onto the fans and supporters of the Thunder who opened their arms to the organization five years ago when the team arrived. Ever since then, the civic pride has been unparalleled and has helped the Thunder rise in lockstep with the city.

“(The fan support is) second to none,” Presti said. “With Oklahoma City, it’s really a partnership. We’re grateful for the support we get. When we have opportunities to accept awards like this, we also need to make sure we’re thanking the people who support the team, because they really put us in positions to give back. That’s part of being a member of the Thunder.”

The banquet, supporting the March of Dimes’ quest to aid expecting mothers and premature babies, raised money to support families who need the services of neonatal intensive care units and other medical assistance related to premature births. The event was hosted by CBS Sports broadcaster Greg Gumbel, an iconic figure in the sports world whose career has spanned four decades.

From afar, Gumbel has been blown away by the way the Thunder has made a mark both in the NBA and in the Oklahoma City community in such a short time, utilizing high-character people and organizational synergy as pillars of strength.

“All in all, they’ve done a tremendous job of building,” Gumbel said. “Let’s face it. There are enough basketball players coming out of college out of year that you can pick and choose, so it’s important to pick the right ones. Not just the best players, but also the ones that will fit your system and organization the best. In that regard, the Thunder has done a terrific job.”

“The Oklahoma City Thunder has more than put their imprint on the map,” Gumbel concluded. “It’s one of the really good stories around the league.”