A Night of Thunder Fun for Norman Boys and Girls Club
For a few moments during the bus ride on I-35 north, 12-year-old Thunder fans Jack and Parker sat still in silence next to each other taking in the window views.
While sightings of the Devon Tower and the rest of the downtown skyline stirred oohs and ahs around them, the boys came to life when they spotted the large window portraits of their hoops idols that wrapped around Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The 25-minute trip from the Norman Boys and Girls Club finally reached the home of Thunder basketball.
As part of the team’s 10th annual Holiday Assist, presented by Cox Communications, Jack and Parker along with 78 of their fellow Club members served as guests of honor for Thunder Night at the Arena on Saturday evening.
“I was waiting on it all week and it could not have come sooner,” said Parker.
Visions of being on the court and meeting the entire team including the coaching staff replaced dreams he might of had the night before.
“I couldn’t go to sleep last night because I was so excited,” said Jack.
The north end of the court was transformed into a banquet hall blitzed with team colors and basketball accouterments accompanied by sounds thick and heavy courtesy of Thunder Drummers. Thunder Girls and Storm Chasers ricocheted from table to table generating toothy grins and shy giggles.
As soon as the children were settled at their tables, house emcees kickstarted the soirée booming the name of all the players and coaches as they jogged out of the tunnel one-by-one to the din of the crowd, complete with the strain of thumping music filling the air.
Laughs, high-fives and photo ops saturated the night’s action-packed agenda as kids, players and coaches together enjoyed a Thunder Alley of sorts.
Shrilling sounds reverberated in the arena as Andre Roberson and Jerami Grant took turns spinning the handle on the air raid siren.
Looking at the hand mirror, a boy was inspecting Paul George’s handiwork at the face-painting station.
Patrick Patterson was ready to take on all challengers in a race through the bounce house.
At the other end of the court, Russell Westbrook surveyed the work at the stencil art table with the meticulous eye of an art buyer.
Casually flicking bean bag after bean bag, Carmelo Anthony kept calling for change during a stretch of successful cornhole tosses as the kids marveled at his uncanny accuracy.
A line swelled where a bison-horned Steven Adams was furiously pounding away on Rumble the Bison’s bass drum.
The chance to celebrate the holidays with the kids and let loose with teammates and coaches made the night special for Adams.
“It has a bit more meaning with the kids for all the players,” said Adams. “It’s cool that the whole team and the coaching staff to be together here at the same time.”
Sitting at the table surrounded by the fanfare, Parker and Jack quietly eat their chicken tenders. Nick Collison came by to say hey. Then Paul George for a hand slap and a word or two.
“You see them on TV, but this is an experience where you can talk to them,” said Parker.
And delivering that experience to young fans like Parker with a personal touch underscored how invaluable the special connection to the community was for the team.
Right before Parker and Jack emptied their plates to head out to the court for games, Russell Westbrook wearing an easy smile on his face stopped by for fist bumps.
Westbrook’s mere presence froze Parker for a moment or two. However, Jack took the time to talk with the reigning NBA MVP.
Jack: "Russell Westbrook is an inspiration. He's my favorite player."
Thunder buddies. Jack and Parker dismount the bus to meet their heroes after a bus ride from Norman. Photo by Jimmy Do | OKC Thunder
Artistry on and off the court. George at the face-painting station: “We’re role models to these kids and we definitely try to do things the right way. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder
Kiwi cares. Adams: "This team really cares about the community. So they definitely put a lot more emphasis on these events. For me, it’s normal." Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder
Rookie antics. Terrance Ferguson and Dakari Johnson renew their friendly rivalry with Ferguson gaining the upper hand this time on the inflatable horses. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder
Dinner With Russ. 9-year-old Jimena: "I wanted to cry. I ran out of words. I couldn’t speak at all." Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder
Watch: Thunder Night at the Arena