A Thunder Thanksgiving
Two pans of macaroni and cheese normally await Darius Bazley on Thanksgiving. This year, however, the 19-year-old NBA rookie is in Oklahoma City, away from his family in Ohio and his grandmother’s delicious mac-n-cheese.
For most of his life, Bazley followed a holiday routine of waking up, getting ready and going over to his grandmother’s house, where everyone in the family gathers for a great meal. To his delight, she typically would make two pans of her cheesy side dish for her grandson, who couldn’t get enough.
This year, Bazley is experiencing the NBA holiday lifestyle for the first time. The team arrived in Oklahoma City at 4:08 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning after a two-game West Coast road trip that started with a flight to San Francisco on Sunday and ended following a game in Portland Wednesday night.
After touching down in Oklahoma City, tables featuring an assortment of pies awaited the team and support staff in the airport lobby, courtesy of Thunder General Manager Sam Presti and his family. One by one, players and staffers swiped up their pie of choice and bee-lined for their car to salvage some sleep before Thanksgiving dinner. The sweet display served as the epitome of what a Thunder Thanksgiving looks like -- making the most of the time you have and being grateful for those moments, however fleeting they may be.
“To me, Thanksgiving is really about gathering around loved ones,” Bazley said. “So, to not be around my family, it’s not all the way bad because I know I’ll eventually see them, but as far as tradition wise, it kind of throws everything off.”
Thanks to the people who helped decorate his home and his friends from church, Bazley will be able to enjoy some Thanksgiving food and cheer, even if it’s not his grandmother’s cooking. As for his family, he will have to settle for a FaceTime call to see them on the holiday.
"Luckily, the people in Oklahoma are so nice. A lot of people have invited me over"
“Luckily, the people in Oklahoma, they’re so nice,” he said. “My family won’t be able to come out, so I thought it was pretty cool that a lot of people have extended their homes to me and invited me over.”
Most players at this point in their basketball careers are jaded by the notion of being whisked across the country on Thanksgiving Day. From Thanksgiving tournaments in college to Holiday Hoops Classics in AAU, competitive basketball is in full swing during the holidays. It not only takes a toll on the players, but on their families as well.
“It’s definitely my first NBA Thanksgiving, but they’re used to me being on the road,” Bazley said. “Immediately, the day after I graduated (high school), I moved and I started my year-long sitting out process. Even in AAU, just traveling all the time, so my mom’s used to me just not being home.” Veterans like Nerlens Noel have learned how to make the most out of the holidays during the NBA season.
“I’m definitely used to it,” he said. “Family members, they catch along with it but when the plans are suitable and they can fit like this Thanksgiving, we’re grateful for that and we’re going to take advantage of spending time as much as we can.”
In Noel’s case, his mother is the one who helps to make the holiday special. Coming into town from Massachusetts and making her son’s favorite Thanksgiving staple – fried turkey. At this point, he won’t be thinking about how tired he is or stressing about the game the next day, he’s grateful for the moment.
“You understand today’s a holiday for being thankful and you just go to sit down and relax,” he said. “Try not to think about too much that’s going on in life, too much that’s going on in your work job, workplace, just appreciate because that’s what it’s for.”
However, while most families will spend the time after the Thanksgiving feast digesting in front of the television or planning Black Friday shopping, the Thunder players will be gearing up for a game the next day. A full night’s rest is necessary for a primetime game against the Pelicans at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday.
“Right after that meal is over, you’re setting your alarm for practice or shootaround the next day. It’s a real quick turnaround, regardless of what holiday it is,” Noel said.
It’s not just the players affected by the grind of the season. The support staff who spend every day with the team suffer the same sacrifices. Coaches, trainers and even security staff all dedicate their holiday to the hustle of the NBA.
“All these holidays during the season is really tough to bring that family feel all the way through, but that’s the lifestyle of playing in the NBA,” said Noel.
Like this article? Catch more stories at the Thunder Thanksgiving page.