Saturday With Serge

Thunder rookie Serge Ibaka took a seat, smiled and faced his questioners.

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” (Answer: 17)

“Who’s your favorite basketball player of all time?” (Magic Johnson)

“How many languages do you speak?” (Four)

“What do you do for fun?” (Watch movies and play videogames)

“Do you want to arm wrestle?” (Yes)

This was not your typical press conference. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, the Thunder forward/center visited with about 20 children of immigrant families at an Oklahoma City apartment complex. Ranging in age from 5 to 18, the kids came from a wealth of nations, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Sudan, Liberia, Russia and Ibaka’s own native country of the Republic of Congo. They hailed from different cultures and spoke different languages, but appeared to share a collective passion for Thunder Basketball. Ibaka grinned as he fielded some particularly tough-minded queries.

Afterward, the 20-year-old Ibaka chuckled about the caliber of the questions.

“I think they are following (the Thunder) closely, because they knew everything about the team and every game,” he said. “I was very surprised. That was cool.”

It was part of a busy afternoon in which Ibaka visited children at several locations.

That first stop was Jamie’s Landing, an apartment complex housing political refugees from across the globe. Ibaka and residents met in a onetime storage area that had since been converted into a classroom. Property manager Cynthia Audeda said Ibaka’s visit meant everything to the young people who had gathered.

“These children have witnessed things you’d never want to witness,” Audeda said. “These kids are going to remember this. They’re going to remember that this happened today.”

Later, the 6-foot-10 Ibaka visited the pediatric wing of INTEGRIS Health Center, chatting with the young patients and their families. Among them was 13-year-old Nick Van Stavern, who regaled Ibaka with how he had once won courtside seats to a Thunder game.

The day wrapped up with a pizza party at Incredible Pizza Company in northwest Oklahoma City. Ibaka had an opportunity to hit the arcade with more than a dozen kids from Calm Waters, a counseling service for children who have experienced a catastrophic loss.

Patricia Smith of Calm Waters said she thought some of the kids were initially intimidated by Ibaka’s height.

“I mean, he’s so tall,” she said. “He’s huge … but they’re excited.”

At Incredible Pizza, Ibaka tried his luck at a host of arcade games. Perhaps not surprisingly, he gravitated to a game that tested his skill at shooting baskets. He seemed to get the hang of it.

Phil Bacharach is the Director of Corporate Communications for the Thunder.