Thunder Visits Moore Neighborhoods

Oklahomans are often in awe of what the Thunder does on the basketball floor, but it’s not even close to how amazed Thunder players and staff are by the strength and attitude of their fellow Oklahomans.

Two days after the horrific and tragic devastation that occurred as a result of the F-5 tornado that swept through Moore and the surrounding Oklahoma City area, Thunder players and staff visited the neighborhoods most affected. Throughout the day Wednesday, General Manager Sam Presti, Head Coach Scott Brooks, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton and many Thunder staffers met with families, volunteers and tornado survivors, joining thousands of other Oklahomans who are helping the recovery efforts.

“To be up close to see something that tragic is very difficult,” Presti said. “But what makes it a lot easier to comprehend is when you meet the people. Their resolve, their resiliency and their faith is greater than what you actually see physically in front of you. It’s inspiring to be around that.”

Starting at a south Oklahoma City police staging area, the Thunder was escorted through many of the areas most impacted by Monday’s tornado, including Briarwood Elementary, Plaza Towers Elementary and the neighborhoods in between. The entire state of Oklahoma- and most of the United States for that matter- has been glued to their television over the past 48 hours. They’ve seen deep sorrow yet also incredible resolve and civic pride.

“It’s different than seeing it on TV,” Westbrook said. “You get the real effect from just walking around and seeing all the cars and the houses, the family and the kids. It’s truly a disaster but it’s great that there are a lot of people helping.”

Despite the devastation, the Thunder was able to bear witness to the multitude of volunteers who came to help their neighbors along and be inspired by the citizens who were taking their dire circumstances in stride. In meeting with many people throughout the area, the Thunder realized that most were strong and firm in their belief that they’ll collectively be able to rise above. Their attitude and mentality is typical of the Oklahoma City community, something the Thunder has seen over the past five years, but still thinks is impressive.

“They’re thankful that they’re alive and all the other stuff is just stuff,” Brooks said. “I was really taken aback by that.”

“Our hearts and prayers go out to all of the families that had to go through all the devastation,” Brooks continued. “It’s overwhelming. The people are out there supporting one another. It just makes you so proud to be a part of the community.”

Not only did Thunder players check in with families, take pictures, sign autographs and boost morale, but also made time to make sure those who are helping those in need felt appreciated as well. The Thunder contingent met with police officers and first responders, in addition to the Red Cross and other volunteers. In one location, a Red Cross mass kitchen that has helped deliver over 3000 meals to Moore residents already, Durant unloaded food and other supplies to be distributed to those taking part in the recovery effort.

“It means the world and as you can see, the devastation is immense and hearts are broken,” said Christopher Sommers, Regional Communications Specialst for the Red Cross. “Any glimpse of hope and any increase in morale is welcome. We’re so thankful that (Durant) was able to come out and boost spirits here.”

The Thunder and Durant both feel the innate emotional ties between the Thunder as a team and the community, which is why this tragedy affects everyone in the area. That feeling is why both the team and Durant each donated $1 million to various recovery organizations, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army, on Tuesday. Wednesday’s visit into the community is a follow up on that financial contribution, and just the beginning of what the Thunder will continue to do to help Moore get on its feet again.

“There are a lot of families that need it and I just wanted to help them,” Durant said. “These families lost so much. I just want to do my best to help them out.”

In some NBA cities, teams and players are far removed from the rest of the citizens. In Oklahoma City, however, the members of the Thunder organization are equal parts of the same community. That’s why Durant made sure to stop by Tim Kraeger’s house in Moore on his way through the area. Kraeger is an Oklahoma City police sergeant, who also works Thunder home games at Chesapeake Energy Arena. His house was ravaged by the tornado, but like thousands of other Oklahomans, his immensely strong spirit remains untouched.

“You can get mad, or you can deal with it and move on,” Kraeger said. “That’s just what (Oklahomans) do. They just pick everybody up and move on.”

That type of resolve and resiliency in the face of enormous adversity is why the Thunder is so inspired by the citizens of Oklahoma. Over the past five years the Thunder has seen how the members of its community rally together and feel a mutual responsibility to help one another in times of strife. Those are qualities that the Thunder hopes to display on and off the court on a daily basis, becoming united with the Oklahoma community and embodying the ideals it displays.

Voluntary trips into the community like this one are yet another example of the importance the Thunder and its players puts on Oklahoma City and its residents, and is also a sign of the high quality character that exists in the organization. Just as the citizens of this community have shown this week, the Thunder hopes to be defined not by how it responds when things are going well, but the internal strength and collective fortitude it puts forth when times are tough.

“We put a lot of emphasis on the people that wear our jersey,” Presti explained. “It’s easy to step to the forefront and lead when you’re winning 60 games or playing in the Western Conference Finals. But when the adversity of life strikes, that’s when you find out a lot about the guys that you have in place. We couldn’t have better individuals that represent our organization and drive our culture on and off the floor.”

“It just shows that in Oklahoma we’re all together, regardless of whether it’s for the Thunder or the city or the community,” Westbrook said. “This is a great time for us to come closer and come together.”