Westbrook, Jackson Keep the Book Bus Rolling

As 60 Kindergarten through fifth grade students were led out the front doors of Central Oak Elementary, they had no idea what kind of surprise was awaiting them in their parking lot only 30 yards away. A basketball court-length away from the front steps of their school stood the Rolling Thunder Book Bus, and inside sat two very special drivers ready to encourage them to read.

Guards Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson were on board the Thunder-themed former school bus that holds about 3,000 books. Thanks to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the American Fidelity Assurance Company, the Rolling Thunder Book Bus provides free books to students and smiles to entire classes of elementary school students.

“This is my first time doing it, and I think the special part about it is that kids like to read,” Westbrook said. “They get on a bus full of books with exciting covers and they get a chance to pick something they like, so it’s exciting.”

While Westbrook distributed wristbands and Jackson doled out bookmarks as if they were assists, the kids who were selected based on their commitment to reading were able to choose from a variety of book titles. For each grade level there was a different section of books, so it made for an easy process for Westbrook and Jackson to help the students pick out a book that suited not only their interests but also their reading level. Westbrook was extremely encouraging and talkative with the students and Jackson asked how their days were going at school and what types of books they liked, making for a relaxed environment.

“This is not scripted, it’s kind of free-lanced,” Jackson said. “You have fun, you give out a book, they get to choose what they want. You just get to interact and see how their day was and little simple things like that. It was a great environment, I very much enjoyed it.”

One student picked out Jerry Spinelli’s Knots in My Yo-Yo String, while others sampled the Goosebumps series, which Jackson joked was a little too scary for him. One young student earned the fun nickname “Junie B. Jones” from Westbrook, as she was particularly interested in finding a book from that series. The All-Star point guard even helped pick out the book Funny Farm for a student named Rosie who just couldn’t decide between all the great options. Westbrook seemed to be taking a sincere, thoughtful interest in what the young kids in his community were selecting.

“I think school is very important,” Westbrook said. “You can’t really skip over that part of your life. What you learn in school and reading is just another step in making you into what you want to be in life.”

Westbrook, who received praise from Head Coach Scott Brooks for his efforts in the community at his recent contract extension announcement, was fully engaged and even did a little reflecting when he saw some of the titles the students selected. When students Xiabien and Koby picked out Corduroy and It Takes a Village and hopped happily off the bus, Westbrook saw not only his childhood favorite book but also a story that he read to students during a Thunder “Read to Achieve” community event in the past. Westbrook said he saw a little of a younger version of himself when the duo strolled off the Thunder-themed bus with those two books in hand.

One student was incredulous that Westbrook and Jackson were even at their school and in the bus, saying, “They’re really tall, how do they fit on the bus?” Despite a few accidental head bumps and much needed neck stretches, Jackson and Westbrook showed they could fit in just perfectly with their elementary school friends. As the students filed onto the gymnasium bleachers, they had two “big kids” who joined their class picture. In that one moment, the students’ days were made and the Thunder’s love and commitment to the Oklahoma City community was clear for all to witness.

“It’s good to see that the whole organization and my teammates are all selfless and we don’t mind giving up 30 minutes of our day,” Jackson said. “But I don’t think we’d mind giving up our entire day, really. It’s just fun to get out and see other parts of the town and see how much of a difference we make.”