Thunder Spends Time with Istanbul Kids

“One Game One Love” read across Thunder players’ t-shirts on Friday morning and that credo said everything about the Thunder’s outreach efforts Turkey.

While the focus of this overseas trip to Istanbul and Manchester is on basketball and improving as the regular season approaches, there has also been time for the Thunder to give back. In the first of two events at the Garanti NBA Arena in Istanbul, Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Derek Fisher, Hasheem Thabeet, Andre Roberson and Diante Garrett taught the game of basketball to nearly 100 Special Olympians. Drills included shooting, dribbling and passing among other aerobic activities, giving everyone involved a chance to interact with one another.

“The kids come out and they have a lot of enthusiasm and its fun for us teaching them a little bit of basketball,” Collison said.

“This is an incredible time,” the National Director of Turkey’s Special Olympics, Melih Gurel said. “We’re getting really excited, especially the athletes… It’s a fantastic opportunity for them.”

The Special Olympics have been in Turkey since 1982, and there are currently 17,000 athletes playing 11 different sports, according to Gurel, who has been in charge for the past ten years. Events like those on Friday morning are an incredible chance for the Thunder to help continue to grow the game of basketball internationally. As General Manager Sam Presti said last week, the Thunder no longer views basketball in America as separate from the rest of the world. It’s all one game, and players all over the world have the same love for it.

“Growing up, I never thought that one day I’d be traveling, playing basketball,” said Thabeet, a native of Tanzania who knows a thing or two about international basketball outreach. “This is a blessing. For me to come out here and get a chance to be out here, it’s a blessing. We just have to come and bless others.”

“It’s exciting, every time we come overseas it’s a reminder of how popular the game is,” Collison explained. “It’s a great time to be a basketball player in the world and see just how far the game has come and where it’s going to go in the future.”

The Thunder has always been a team that brings in players from every part of the world the commitment to international basketball was evident on Friday afternoon as well. At a basketball clinic for Turkish prize-winners, Congolese forward Serge Ibaka and New Zealander Steven Adams were joined by Daniel Orton, an Oklahoman born and raised.

The teenagers who were fortunate enough to win a contest got the opportunity to play knockout, a shooting challenge and go through skills drills with the Thunder trio. For both Ibaka and Adams, the chance to expand the reach of the Thunder organization was a welcome opportunity and at the same time it was poignant – at one point both of them were teenagers living in a country far from the United States, with dreams of playing in the NBA.

“It’s great to be here,” Ibaka said. “It’s a great experience for us to be here to see our fans from Turkey. To be with them is always good.”

“It’s events like this that help the exposure of the NBA and basketball itself,” Adams said. “As long as they keep doing this, I think the whole world will jump on it.”