At a Crossroads in Life – with the Thunder

Erik Rodriguez knew something needed to change in his life -- at least if he wanted that life to be a long and happy one. He was no stranger to turmoil, despite seeing too many friends meet tragic ends and despite the best efforts of a mother raising three kids while her husband was in prison.

A rough neighborhood was having its impact on the boy.

“My mom tried,” the 17-year-old Oklahoma City youth said of his early adolescence. “She made me play soccer and I tried to do church events and everything.”

But those activities didn’t seem to keep him out of trouble. Increasingly, Erik was getting crossways with the law, on a downward spiral with bad decisions and worse outcomes.

“I was stuck at a crossroads of my life where I had to decide which road to take,” recalled Erik.

“Some of those roads had grim endings, if I decided to take them. I was in ‘street’ trouble and getting into problems. It worsened my everyday life and my relationship with my loved ones.”

Gradually, things began to brighten.

His mother moved the family to a different neighborhood. That helped.

Erik became involved with Goodwill GoodGuides, a mentorship program that matches mentors with at-risk young people. That helped.

And he became a devoted Thunder fan.

That helped, too.

“It was time for me to change, and just in time of my change, the Thunder came to town,” Erik said.

“I devoted my time to keeping up with the Thunder and playing the game of basketball. I try to follow everything from training segments to every game stat breakdown.”

He went to a few games at the Ford Center and was knocked out by the electrifying atmosphere. Soccer had always been Erik’s sport of choice, not hoops, but the Thunder transformed his life in a number of ways.

“Basketball and the Thunder have completely changed me,” he said.

“I gained confidence in myself, and the Thunder has helped keep me out of trouble. A few times I could have gone out with friends, and I later heard that those same nights something awful happened to them. It was a Thunder game that kept me from being with them and having that ‘something awful’ happen to me.”

Erik’s love for the Thunder has had deeper reverberations. It helped sharpen his focus and invigorated his sense of hope.

“Being from a Latin culture, you’re taught all about pride -- pride in your last name, pride in where you’re from, pride in who you are and who your family is,” he said.

“I’m from Oklahoma City and I’ve pretty much lived here my entire life. The second the Thunder came, it just gave us that pride. I just knew I wanted to support this team right from the start. It was about pride and calling them my own.

“I see that the Thunder never gives up. It could be a lost game, but they never give up. I try my best to never give up.”

John Thomas can attest to the boy’s commitment to bettering himself. The Edmond, Okla., resident has been Erik’s GoodGuides mentor over the past several months.

“While his greatest achievements are yet to come, he really has made some extraordinary strides and he really swam against the stream for him to do that, and I admire him for that,” John said.

“He aspires to do better. He cares deeply about this family. He is a person who’s had some problems and he’s been in some serious difficulties with the law, and he’s very much aware that there’s a real downside to that. I see Erik as a person of great promise.”

And Erik appears to be making good on that promise. The high school junior’s grades are steadily improving. He went to summer school and hopes to attend college.

“I know other people have gone through their own personal struggles,” Erik said.

“I know that many of those people have turned to the Thunder to be happy and, for those two hours that the Thunder plays, just forget about everything in the world and focus on a good game of basketball. Because I know that’s what it’s done for me.”

Thunder loyalists from all across the world can be found at THUNDERALLY, an online, interactive community designed for Thunder fans.

Phil Bacharach is the Director of Corporate Communications for the Thunder. He is looking for die-hard Thunder fans throughout the world. If you or somebody you know bleeds Thunder blue, contact Phil by clicking here.