Presti Honored by Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Sam Presti is typically the one sitting at a table, standing in the back of the room, giving a standing ovation or being interviewed about a Thunder player’s accomplishments. On Tuesday night, the script was flipped. At the 2016 Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice (OCCJ) Humanitarian Awards Dinner, it was Presti, the Thunder’s Executive Vice President and General Manger, who was on stage.

For so many years, the 2010 NBA Executive of the Year has attended Thunder players’ community outreach efforts, awards ceremonies and personal events, so it was a bit surreal to him that he was the center of attention at the Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City.

The OCCJ recognized Presti as the 2016 Humanitarian of the Year for his leadership and commitment to diversity and inclusion within the Thunder organization, while also noting the team’s 1,950 community appearances since 2008 and Presti’s own Forward Thinking Leadership Development program, which serves sophomores and juniors from Centennial, John Marshall and U.S. Grant High Schools.

Presti, milling about outside the Skirvin’s ballroom, was already stunned when he found out just 20 minutes before the event that one of his mentors, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich, would be in attendance. He was completely blown away by the public recognition as the proceedings began.

“I’m tremendously humbled and honored. I’m reflective about the people who have helped me along the way,” Presti said. “I’ve had so many great mentors and influences. Now, to work with such an incredible group of people with the Thunder, this is more of a recognition of the organization than an individual.”

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The evening began with a welcome from Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, then words from leadership at the OCCJ, describing their mission as a human relations organization to achieve respect and understanding for all people through education, advocacy and dialogue. What followed was a pair of truly emotional speeches given by young men who Presti has impacted during his time in Oklahoma City – Tyler Zander and Marco Grier. Both speakers faced horrific and challenging episodes in their lives, only to have Presti swoop in and help them through those trying times and maintain friendships with them to this day.

Once it was Presti’s turn to speak, he started by asking every member of the Thunder organization in attendance to stand up and be recognized. In his mind, the award is a direct reflection not on himself personally, but the culture of the organization and the intentional belief that diversity is not a byproduct of success, but the starting point for it. To Presti, a team or any business that is filled with people from varied backgrounds is just that much more dynamic.

“We aspire to one day be an organization known not only for what we do but how it's done and more specifically who we do it with,” Presti said.

“Our number one competitive advantage is our people,” Presti explained. “Our diversity is our catalyst."

By tracking down an assistant coach he first met in Serbia 15 years ago in Darko Rajakovic, hiring men and women from other industries and identifying in staffers from New York, Seattle, Boston and across the globe, Presti has made sure to bring people into the Thunder organization who not only might be different genders, races and ethnicities, but also who have unique life experiences and mindsets.

The foundation has been put into place that the Thunder organization is one that attracts and keeps some of the most talented people from all over the world, creating an environment of constant growth as a result. According to Presti, that starts all the way at the top, with Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett.

“None of it is possible without having a great owner like Clay (Bennett), who has really supported our commitment to people, diversity and trying to build a progressive organization,” Presti explained. “We’re incredibly grateful for the type of support that we get in order to try to attract and identify really high potential people from all different backgrounds, experiences and orientations. Hopefully it’s something that will continue to help define us moving forward.”

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The vision for the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice (OCCJ) is to eliminate bias, bigotry and racism in our state, in our generation. OCCJ is the leading organization in advocating the rights and ethical treatment of all people. OCCJ’s work contributes greatly to healthy, educated and empowered communities. Underlying all the economic and social challenges that communities face are the very basic, and often difficult, human relations issues that OCCJ is uniquely positioned to help resolve.

 

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