1,000 Appearances? BINGO!
A capacity crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena is 18,203, and certainly the full house at Ranchwood Nursing Center in Yukon couldn't match a game night in numbers. But the crowd of residents, staff and families on Tuesday showed no less enthusiasm than an arena full of fans as the Thunder visited the facility to celebrate the team's 1,000th player appearance in the community.
The team held a party for the residents, led by Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, who helped turn the odometer to four digits and started the count toward the next 1,000 appearances.
The Thunder wanted to go all-out for the residents at Ranchwood, but it turns out Ranchwood really went all-out for the Thunder.
A crowd overflowed out into the lobby, surrounding a 6-foot-squared replica of the court at Chesapeake Arena. The windows to offices were painted just like the windows painted downtown, with Thunder logos and colors.
In the main dining area, where residents were gathered for the party, hundreds of blue, orange and white balloons were carefully fastened to the ceiling, hanging down one by one from colored ribbon.
"It's a little overwhelming to walk in," said Collison, who was taking in the charged atmosphere. "I've done a lot of different appearances like this, and we have fun doing it – but more importantly we feel like we owe it to the city to get out here and do stuff like (this).
"We get great support from our fans here, and we've had it since day one, so whenever we get the opportunity to come back and do something for the community, we enjoy doing it."
Rumble and the Thunder Girls warmed up the crowd with some Thunder excitement – not that the crowd needed much warming up. They had been looking forward to this celebration, and it showed.
"Since I passed the word that they were coming, spirits hit the ceiling here," said Wendy Donaho, bookkeeper at Ranchwood. "I mean, it's just astronomical around here. You just can't (describe) the smiles on the face and the enthusiasm."
After ceremonial necessities like cutting the cake, Collison, Jackson and Lamb led the residents in a few games of bingo. Jackson, who professed to love bingo, even played a card himself as he called the numbers.
The Thunder Girls listened as their nursing-center counterparts, a crew of self-professed Thunder Girls, led a cheer from their wheelchairs. Players ran into the crowd with prizes as residents shouted "bingo!"
But amidst all the fun, some reminders surfaced of how much impact just a party like this, or just a game of basketball, can truly have.
Kimberlie Glenn watched her grandmother, who took part in as much of the party as she could from her bed, which had been wheeled in and parked next to a table.
Near tears, Glenn tried to mask her emotion as she described what this meant to her grandmother – and to her.
"You know, this is actually the first time I've seen her smile in several months," she said.
"She's having a great time. She's got a little pom-pon, and she's having a good time. … She doesn't have good days a lot. So it means the world to me and my family."
The joys of one day may make lifelong memories, but the Thunder wanted to leave a more lasting gift, as well. The Thunder Cares Foundation donated $1000 toward Ranchwood's upcoming holiday party, to help ensure all residents will have a cheerful Christmas.
Thunder General Manager Sam Presti knows how much every little thing that the team does to give back to the community can matter.
"All the time that our players have spent in the community adds up," he said. "It's pretty humbling, at the end of the day, when you realize the impact that the players and the team and organization have on the people that support (us).
"It's a relationship that we don't take for granted, and it's something that our organization cherishes."