At Target, A Thunder Blue Christmas

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

Steven Adams’ head was too big for the blue Santa cap, so he went with a massive fur hat with ear flaps as a topper to a classic Steven Adams outfit: a Nasa T-Shirt under his Thunder Cares shirt, basketball shorts and flip flops.

That was quite the sight for shoppers at Target in Oklahoma City, as Adams and his Thunder teammates, Thunder broadcasters, the Thunder Girls and Rumble the Bison helped Sunbeam Family Services and Grandparents Raising Grandchildren with its 10th annual Target Shopping Spree.

Russell Westbrook was the first to scamper through the curtains to find his assigned kids James and Heaven and their cart, and he took them around the store with the exuberance of a rookie. While he was picking out dolls on one aisle, fellow veteran Nick Collison was making laps, scoping out the clothes aisles with his kid, who was getting all of their Christmas list and more fulfilled.

Paul George was busy in the electronics aisle, and showed off his skills with a Bop It to 9-year old Makhila and 8-year old Lebron, whose grandmothers Pauline and Terese were shopping with Thunder Girl Anna. Their living room television recently went out, so all four of them had been piling up in the bed to watch television together in the evening.

On Monday, not only did Makhila and Lebron get to pick out everything on their wish list, but so did their grandmothers. When Anna brought them to the register, Pauline started breaking down in tears of gratitude.

“The kids are just ecstatic because they weren’t really looking for much,” Pauline said. “They’re just precious.”

“It was just really eye-opening and life-changing to be able to help Terese and Pauline shop for themselves for a change and put themselves first this holiday season,” Anna said. “They do so much for their grandchildren and are so selfless and are just great people so they deserve to have something good happen to them.”

Of course a huge portion of the thrill of the Thunder’s annual event that practically puts Target on hold for an evening is seeing the children in their element, getting to be carefree. But the most sentimental moments come in watching the grandparents. They’ve sacrificed their later years in life to raise kids 50-plus years younger than them, and never complain. Most of them are spending all of their time and energy in their retirement years trying to provide for the needs of teenagers or children who have come under their care.

Take for instance a man named Harold, whose wife recently passed away, and who is caring for a 16-year old named Cory. Besides a shirt or two here and there, Harold said he hadn’t shopped for himself in about five years. Thunder Girl Stephanie made sure that streak ended abruptly, as he moseyed around the store and picked up a crock pot, a puzzle and some button-down shirts, with two pockets on the front of course.

“The grandparents are the ones who need the help, who need the support. I don’t think they get a lot of credit for what they do,” forward Carmelo Anthony said. “For us to be able to come out here for a couple hours and be able to take some of that pressure off of them and show them that we appreciate what they do, it makes it easy and makes it fun.”

Many of the Thunder players know what it’s like to have a meager holiday season, where a trip to a discount store to pick up the essentials like socks and underwear was about the most the family could afford. There was true empathy on Monday. It was clear that the event resonated with Anthony, who recalled how tough things were for him growing up and how he tries to use his platform to prevent others from having to experience that.

“I wish somebody would have taken me to Target,” Anthony quipped.

“The ones I didn’t get nothing, that’s my favorite Christmas,” Anthony added. “I never wanted to have that feeling again. I want to give back to these kids. I know what that feeling is like so I never want kids to have that feeling if I have anything to do with it.”

Watch: 10th Annual Target Shopping Spree

In between the heartfelt moments of reflection and compassion were the moments of joy, people living in the now and being grateful for what they have. Some grandparents were reluctant to get much for themselves, so it was fun to watch the Thunder Girls and broadcasters eventually wear them down and get them to let loose.

The children needed less urging. Between the clothes, toys, games and electronics, there seemed to be a mad dash throughout the store as the kids got to have the world of Target in their hands. After veteran Raymond Felton got done checking out with his kids, who had just picked up bicycles, he summed up the evening perfectly, explaining why this Thunder tradition is such a wonderful one around the holidays.

“My biggest thing for these kids is to have fun and enjoy themselves. This is an experience they’ll always remember. This is something that is real touching to me,” Felton said. “I think it’s something that every team around the league should do.”

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