Kanter in the Community
By Jimmy Do | okcthunder.com
In a 30-minute walk south on Harvey Avenue heading to Chesapeake Energy Arena, a charming Midtown mural greets passersby with a giant reminder: “Keep Oklahoma Friendly!”
Equal parts Andy Warhol and Woody Guthrie, this folksy-flavored oversized wall decree has pop-art flair and a playful attitude. The block lettering dazzled in a color palette reminiscent of those Hot Dog on a Stick uniforms. “Oklahoma” in the loopy script typeface just emanated fun.
— Keep It Local OK (@KeepItLocalOK) August 25, 2015
The local masterpiece evoked not only a spirit of daring spontaneity, but also a sense of purpose with a smile.
Campy, yet endearing, this was a visual glasnost for goodwill behind the force of sincerity.
One of Enes Kanter’s go-to anecdotes pointed to a time when he arrived from Utah two and half years ago.
“When I go to Wal-Mart or when I go to Target, they're really shy asking for a picture,” said Kanter. “I’ll ask them sometimes, ‘Do you want to take a picture?’ They're respectful, and they're amazing fans.”
Any reservations Kanter he might have about his new surroundings quickly evaporated by the disarming charm of the locals. Their respect for his personal space ended up stealing his heart.
At the time, a 22-year-old Kanter was trying to navigate the uncertainties of a new city. So the welcoming spirit he felt from the people of Oklahoma was like a panacea quelling a newcomer’s anxiety.
When fall came shortly that year, there was a downtown festival to celebrate Turkish food and culture where Kanter addressed the revelers and racked up photo ops at the Myriad Botanical Gardens near the arena.
Soaking up a scene of 5,000 Oklahomans from atop the stage at the sprawling urban park, he feasted his eyes on a community coming together to celebrate his heritage.
He did not have to change who he was or what he ate with his new Okie neighbors.
“It’s amazing,” Kanter said. “People come and are with the Turkish community. It’s important to me and these kind of events bring us together and leave our differences on the table.”
“That’s what it’s all about: to bring everyone together,” Kanter affirmed.
The seed was planted for Kanter. What he sowed was a life-defining precept to carry him forward.
Live for others.
That conviction launched him on a compassion odyssey filled with experiences akin to a civic-minded version of Jack Kerouac’s seminal work, "On the Road," where travel whims drove unique experiences and personal growth.
Kanter, 25, developed a mounting dossier of not only travel miles, but also relationships and achievements through living for others.
Much like Kerouac’s counterculture impact, Kanter’s humanitarian aims ran counter to the vortex of vanity in today’s culture of casting for Likes and Views.
In contrast, Kanter’s good-natured selfies were more celebratory than self-indulgent. They served as pay-it-forward keepsakes for all those involved.
Selfie Season. To the delight of the Millwood students, the Thunder duo takes a send-off selfie.
And because Kanter experienced how Oklahomans kept it “friendly” everywhere he went, Kanter found his calling card. Becoming an Okie fueled his desire to share that same courtesy.
Thus, Everywhere Man was born and bred right here in Oklahoma.
Have You Seen This Man?
A show of support. Kanter takes a group photo with the Oakdale Tigers girls hoop squad.
Having a Thunder player as a neighbor would be pretty cool. Having him show up at one of your basketball games to cheer you on would be something else.
Sometime during the early part of the 2016-17 regular season, the girls of the Oakdale Elementary basketball team in Kanter’s neighborhood invited him to one of their games.
Not really expecting an NBA player with a busy schedule could make it, the kids were floored when they spotted Kanter in the stands with hand claps and howling like a proud parent during the game.
“They're always there to cheer for us. I just feel like whenever I have free time, I just want to give back to the community, give back to them,” said Kanter.
The jarring sight of Kanter’s imposing 6-foot-11 frame squeezed amongst the giddy parents delivered an unforgettable moment for the girls.
While using his size and prodigious footwork to gain the upperhand on his opponents on an NBA court, Kanter realized his advantages were neutralized during a practice session held at the University of Central Oklahoma with the wheelchair teams of the Oklahoma Adaptive Sports Association (OKASA).
Kanter was there to support the OKASA teams and deliver a pep-talk to the athletes during their fundraiser campaign toward covering traveling costs for national competition.
“It’s an awesome experience. I’ve watched these guys and wanted to visit them,” said Kanter. “It’s my first experience to play wheelchair basketball with these amazing kids.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 26, 2017
For Kanter, the focal point in doing difference-making humanitarian work was the youth.
Today’s youth was the nucleus for creating his charity initiative, the Enes Kanter Light Foundation (EKLF), reflecting a mission that “fosters awareness and provides assistance for children's development in areas of education, poverty alleviation and social harmony.”
Through his outreach, the children of tomorrow would be able to maximize their potential for success as long as basic human needs can be accommodated.
Thus, making connections through the game of basketball served a broader purpose in these visits.
Embracing basketball as the lingua franca to break social and cultural barriers was the locus of Kanter’s outreach efforts. The universal appeal of the game aligned with his vision of bringing people together.
Norris Cole, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter stopped by Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics for some Thunder Fit fun! pic.twitter.com/UBcp3hRdFz
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 21, 2017
Kanter: “The most important thing is to Live for Others. I’m an NBA player for a reason and that’s to help others.”
From local schools and hospitals to shelters and food banks, Kanter became a mainstay at Thunder Cares events and programs throughout the greater OKC metro.
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) March 28, 2017
Heart & Healing
One of the patients at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany was watching a Thunder game on TV during the team’s West Coast road trip in January. Young Thunder fan Reo could not have imagined a visit from one of the players was fast-approaching when the team returned home.
Then one day it happened. Reo in a blue ‘Stache Bros. tee and Thunder cap was being tended to by a nurse. Kanter waltz into the room with a “How are you doing my man?” The boy’s whole face lit up upon laying eyes on the Turkish big man drawing laughter in disbelief.
“Wow. I saw him yesterday on TV in California and he flew all the way here,” said Reo. “He could be resting up or thinking about his next game, but he came here and spent time with me.”
Kanter saw strength, courage and resiliency in these kids. He simply wanted to be a part of it.
“The kids here are really special,” said Kanter. “They’re doing an amazing job rehabilitating and giving me hope.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 20, 2017
With Thunder hats and tees in tow, Kanter continued spreading smiles and the Thunder Spirit at the The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center near downtown OKC.
Making new friends along the way, these visits allowed Kanter to connect with those who may feel insular through long-term hospitalization.
“It’s so gratifying to watch him walk in a patient’s room and the child opens up, smiles and high-fives,” said Dr. William Meyer, director of the Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. “They’re thrilled to see him and it makes a big difference in these kids’ lives.”
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) April 11, 2017
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) April 5, 2017
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) April 4, 2017
— NBA Cares (@nbacares) April 4, 2017
Full video: Kanter Brings Smiles at Children's Hospital
Residents at a retirement and assisted-living community in Oklahoma City had their regular afternoon bingo session delightfully disrupted by some new friends from the local basketball team.
Dre, Steven, Enes and Alex stopped by Brookdale Village to join today's round of bingo! pic.twitter.com/ZiXG6XJK2T
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) November 30, 2016
Stockpiled with an endless repertoire of quips and comebacks between them, Adams and Kanter returned to the bingo hall, but this time, they brought teammates Andre Roberson and Alex Abrines to join the fray.
“It’s an awesome experience. I did this last year and I wanted to do it again this year,” said Kanter.
The fun-loving, good-natured Thunder troupe did not miss a beat to the pleasure of the residents at Brookdale Village.
It did not take long for this bingo session to stoke the competitive fire amongst the players, especially after Kanter claimed the afternoon’s first victory much to the chagrin of Adams, ready to challenge the legitimacy of every win that was not his.
Aside from the side-splitting banter between the mustachioed big men, Roberson impressed the residents with his charming silky bingo-calling skills as he took the mic and revealed each number with rhymes (“B-7 lookin’ like heaven … N-31 we’re just havin’ fun”) adding to the delight.
“Playing bingo with the players gives them a purposeful experience and definitely enriches their lives,” said Cindy Sheehan, Clare Bridge program coordinator. “It’s very uplifting to them. It also lets them know the outside world does care about them.”
One of the appreciative aspects for the players was to spend time with those with a lifelong supply of stories and memories.
“These people have lived through everything,” said Abrines. It’s nice to be able to talk to them and share in their experiences.”
Nurturing Young Minds
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) November 9, 2016
“Looks like a good rug.”
“Wow. This one looks like a grizzly bear.”
The comical mishmash of Adams and Kanter brought their 7-foot and 6-foot-11 frames respectively to join two large dogs, one 140 pounds and the other a mere 90 pounds, for a book reading of Tad Hills' "Rocket Writes a Story"—an account of a dog's struggles and eventual breakthrough in learning to read and write.
For 50 jumpy, excited third-graders inside the library of Cleveland Elementary, this only meant pure, unadulterated fun.
The restless students were tickled with joy as the two frontcourt buddies lobbed stinging barbs at each other while therapy dogs Denali, a mammoth Newfoundland, and Buddy, a chocolate lab, roamed around for love pats and attention.
Both therapy dogs came from A New Leash on Life Inc., an Oklahoma-based organization centered on enriching lives through pet training programs including service dogs and therapy dogs.
“The dogs are a great motivator,” said Barbara Lewis, executive director of A New Leash on Life Inc. “In the children’s case, it’s reading a book. Dogs don’t correct them if they pronounce the words wrong; they just lie there and listen and enjoy the children’s voices.”
While hijinks were aplenty when Adams and Kanter get together, the duo shared their struggles and triumphs on their way to the NBA in a heartfelt tonal shift during the Q&A session.
“It’s always fun to do any of these events because it’s always a good cause,” said Adams. “And a lot of people just see the joy on your face, and they’re just happy. Obviously, the ones with the kids I love more, because they’re kids. It’s just more, it feels cool.”
Added Kanter: “To put a smile on their face is the best thing ever. Just coming here and hanging out with the kids to read a book about hard work, it’s pretty cool.”
With finals around the corner before the winter break, students at the University of Central Oklahoma had a chance to visit with Kanter, who established the Enes Kanter Turkish Scholarship fund. Indeed, class was extra fun that night with Kanter serving as special lecturer.
Bringing people together through cultural exchanges allowed Kanter to open dialogue with students toward gaining mutual understanding and an appreciation for diverse backgrounds and experiences.
Sharing his for his native language & culture. Enes Kanter provides scholarships for students at UCO to learn Turkish. pic.twitter.com/e9CA2SDniw
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 8, 2016
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 28, 2016
Celebrating Black History Month, Kanter was also at Millwood High School passing out copies of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” during the team’s debut book club event.
In addition, he and Abrines made sure third-graders from nearby Millwood Elementary took home copies of “Martin’s Big Words” on the Rolling Thunder Book Bus--a mobile book collection through Thunder Cares.
Adding to his already robust civic portfolio in the local community, Kanter viewed his first foray on the book bus as one of his favorite ways to connect with young minds and promote education.
“It’s definitely one of my favorites, because it’s about school. It’s about education,” said Kanter. “Reading is fun. The most important thing is learning.”
The surprise visit was not only about whetting the students’ appetite for reading, but it also gave the duo a chance to imbue an ethos for the kids centered on laying the groundwork for a bright future.
“They see us on the court play basketball, but then see us here to tell them the importance of reading, school work and education.” said Kanter.
Helping the Hungry
On a November Saturday evening, Kanter went to a local Walmart to do some shopping. Only, he was not shopping for himself. Instead, the big man eventually packed the trunk of his vehicle with 40 turkeys and 40 toy items to deliver to OKC families struggling during the holidays.
“I feel like being a basketball player and playing in the NBA to help others,” said Kanter. “I think that’s the most important thing. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
In collaboration with his foundation and Sunbeam Family Services, Kanter hosted a Thanksgiving feast that night, serving Turkish dishes as an added personal touch.
“For the parents and children we serve at Sunbeam Family Services, this event comes at the most perfect time,” said Erin Engelke, chief external relations officer of Sunbeam Family Services.
“We’re incredibly thankful for Enes Kanter’s desire to step up and help those in our community who need it the most, allowing them to celebrate Thanksgiving together.”
Kanter also donated not only his time, but also 5,000 meals to the Food for Kids program at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and rallying others to help through an online campaign.
When he heard a family from Noble were tightroping on the slimmest of budgetary margins, Kanter answered the call.
Working with Thunder Cares, he threw the life preserver over to the treading Baldwins and took the family on a fun-filled shopping spree at a Homeland in Norman.
For Kanter, this was an opportunity to spend quality time with the family while helping to stockpile groceries.
“It was more than just shopping here,” said Kanter. “To live for others is the most important thing.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 22, 2017
Man About Town
The Edmond bowling alley transformed into the carnival-like atmosphere of a Thunder home game complete with fan-favorite amenities. Decked out in custom Thunder bowling shirts with a members-only vibe, all of the players and coaches were out in full force to deliver a special party for 75 children of local military families in an unforgettable weekend afternoon swirling with smiles, laughter and high-fives.
Much like any large family gatherings, it was only a matter of time for things to get interesting.
The clatter grew louder and louder when the ‘Stache Brothers ambled to the spirit station. With the kits at their disposal, the Brothers Picasso converted the face-painting table into a tattoo parlor of sorts and dashed off one masterpiece after another on not only faces, but also forearms and biceps serving as canvases.
The lines swelled with every wide-eyed kid trying to get random scrawlings of forest animals and self-portraits on their limbs and cheeks from the fun-loving big men.
Soon enough, the hullabaloo was too strong for Oladipo and Sabonis not to notice, pulling them to the din with their fellow teammates to join in on the fun.
Not to mention, Nick Collison and Alex Abrines teamed up to serve up smiles, cotton candy and snowcones nearby to anyone and everyone within reach.
“To me personally, and to us as a team as well, our military does so much for us,” said Oladipo. “It’s a blessing to show them we are giving back to their kids.”
When Kanter was not knocking down pins with teammates for a good cause, the gravitational pull of knowing there was plenty of work to be done around plotted his next moves of good deeds.
The entire Thunder organization helped transform Westwood Elementary in South OKC through a range of projects that left an indelible mark on the students and staff. The school was a funding casualty as it was thought to be left for dead.
“Westwood Elementary didn’t receive the MAPS for Kids money, “ said Mary Mélon, CEO/president of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS). “This was a school that was slated for closing.”
Bleak, but not broken, the prospects of beautifying Westwood Elementary became a reality when the Thunder teamed up with Partners in Action and the Foundation for OKCPS.
“Seeing 400 people from the Thunder descend on one campus to make this a beautiful building is so much appreciated by the district,” said Aurora Lora, OKCPS superintendent.
“During a time where we are very limited on resources, they’re seeing people taking time to make this a beautiful place for people to learn,” Lora continued.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 31, 2017
Driven by gratitude, the players, coaches and staff working in concert underscored the total-team effort of leading art and music classes to painting and landscaping.
“It’s a way for us to give back to the community. We get such incredible support from the city and the state, we appreciate that,” said Billy Donovan, Thunder head coach. “You always want to find ways to give back and help.”
Giddy for the students of the work being done, a grinning Kanter was found roller painting his heart and spirit with each stroke inside the walls for a touch up.
Kanter: “I think they’re going to feel so amazing, so lucky.”
In a sense, Westwood was a case study miracle in how teamwork made the dream work.
“We hope that we’re leaving a positive, fun Thunder impact on the school that the teachers and the kids and the whole community can experience,” said Christine Berney, Thunder vice president of community relations.
And to Kanter, making that Thunder impact was synonymous to spreading holiday cheer, only it would be a year-round commitment.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 12, 2017
This is Why We Play
One year ago, Kanter’s industrial-strength commitment to community launched his charity foundation.
Nice holiday watch! Here's a taste of a new In My Words on Thunder Plus app. Enes Kanter and his summer of global service, 59 events, 14 countries, 33 days. Download app at okcthunder.com/plus. Enes Kanter Light Foundation (EKLF) fosters awareness and provides assistance for children's development in areas of education, poverty alleviation and social harmony.
Flash forward to March where Kanter in a black suit and tie ambled up the stage to accept the Humanitarian Award from the Dialogue Institute of Oklahoma City during the 13th Annual Friendship Dinner & Awards Ceremony.
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) March 31, 2017
There he was standing behind the podium flanked by a seated teammate Andre Roberson to his right with other local dignitaries in attendance including Senator David Holt, Oklahoma City University President Robert Henry and former Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry.
He delivered a speech to reiterate his love for OKC and the work ahead to be done in the community, which was showered with applause in the room.
“We recognize outstanding achievements of those that dedicated themselves in their profession and service to society by generously contributing their time, energy, expertise and financial resources," said Kadir Akkus, outreach director of the Dialogue Institute of Oklahoma City.
“Each year the Dialogue Institute raises money to a local nonprofit to show our commitment to Oklahoma and its people,” Akkus continued.
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) March 9, 2017
What Oklahomans have always known about Kanter was not only his virtuoso play in the paint, but also his big heart for them through his passion for improving the lives of others around him.
“I’m not doing this for awards. From Day One, the whole state, not just the organization, the whole state open their arms,” said Kanter.
Thunder Cares, the team’s charity arm working tirelessly year round to help those in need, not only helped Kanter to be ingrained with Oklahomans, but also fueled his philanthropic passions.
Between his work with the team and his own outreach efforts, Kanter made waves throughout communities in Oklahoma.
As a nod, the state of Oklahoma officially declared Oct. 29, 2016 as “Enes Kanter Day” for good measure.
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) October 30, 2016
He found his solace and refuge in Oklahoma. His infinite gratefulness for that drove his compassion ventures in local communities across the metro.
“So this is the right place. It feels amazing because they gave me a home,” Kanter continued. “I just want to give back to my big family.”
Eyebrows deep in the Thunder Cares canon, his generous spirit was less about keeping idle hands at bay, but more about showing his affection for a community that loved him unconditionally upon arrival through difference-making work.
A vow of people. A vow of second chances for others.
“Just because we have a busy schedule doesn’t mean we can’t make time for our community,” said Kanter. “Love OKC, the fans and everything about our city!”