Ibaka Joins Family on Shopping Spree
The Thunder’s fourth-year man who recently signed a long-term contract extension to stay with the team has found Oklahoma City to be a place of comfort for him. The organization and the pace of the city are certainly important aspects for Ibaka, but as he showed on Sunday afternoon, it is the people in the community that make him passionate about the area. By participating in the Thunder’s Holiday Assist Homeland Shopping Spree with one needy family, Ibaka proved how much he cares about the people in Oklahoma City.
“The community means a lot, they help us a lot too, not only on the court, but off the court,” Ibaka said. “For us it’s really important to come back and be in the community and try to make them happy. They make us happy. I’m still here right now today in Oklahoma because I’m happy here. It’s because of them that I’m happy. That’s why me and my teammates, we always try to do the best we can to make them happy too.”
Ibaka’s story is unique, but his connection with the Oklahoma City community is not entirely different than that of the rest of the players within the Thunder organization. In fact, people in Oklahoma have noticed just how active the Thunder is on a daily basis in terms of being visible in the community and connecting with fans. It starts with community events like Sunday’s at Homeland, which store manager Jerry Ward appreciated being a part of.
“With not ever being around any pro sports, just seeing this franchise, the way they get involved with the community, they just seem to be genuine people and really care,” Ward said. “It’s really nice to see that with all the things going on in the world nowadays. These people come in to help and to me it just means a lot to be a part of it.”
Ibaka walked into the grocery store as the Boulware family, headed by single mom Heather, anxiously waited for the Thunder power forward to join them on a shopping spree. Boulware was nominated for the $500 free grocery shopping trip by Angie Churchman of North Highland Elementary School, where five of Boulware’s children attend school and participate in the Food for Kids backpack program. It was a shock to be nominated for the shopping spree, but something that the Boulwares appreciated greatly.
“I was stunned and then I was excited and I’ve been excited ever since,” Boulware said. “It helps out a lot… It’s really good because it helps out people that can’t afford to do things.”
With a big smile and excitement in his voice, Ibaka urged Boulware’s children, who were shy at first, to pick out what they wanted as they rolled the shopping carts up and down the aisles. As everybody warmed up, Ibaka began to share more and more laughs from the kids and found ways to get a lot of desired items into the shopping carts.
For the native of the Congo who grew up with an extremely large family, Ibaka understands the pressures that families can face, particularly around the holiday season. As a result, Ibaka was particularly thrilled to be able to help out a family he could connect with.
“I come from a big family,” Ibaka said. “I have 17 brothers and sisters. I know how it works, how it feels. So every time I’m around people, kids, families for me it’s not a surprise or the first time. So I just enjoy it.”