Thunder Melts Hearts With Valentine’s Day Love
Photography by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder
Not even the cold, wet overcast afternoon dampened the warm smiles inside a local Love’s Travel Stop on Valentine’s Day. When 9-year-old J.T. Ratliff and friends set foot inside the store, they were greeted with a hearty “Hey guys!” and a neighborly wave from none other than Thunder guard Victor Oladipo, who was holding court with teammate Jerami Grant behind the checkout counter. The boys’ collective jaws dropped as awe transformed their bewildered faces. After a few moments of trying to reconcile the busier-than-usual scene in front of him, J.T. spotted Enes Kanter and scampered towards the 6-foot-11 Turkish big man for a big bear hug, melting hearts all around.
“Oh my gosh–it was so cool,” said the young Thunder fan trying to contain his disbelief. “I saw Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo and Jerami Grant. I can’t believe they’re here right now–it is so amazing!”
Then there was Cameron Payne, flashing his boyish grin as he made the rounds doling out chocolates and gift cards while racking up photos ops with the excited customers on hand.
“It’s cool to see it on their faces. It’s a blessing,” said Payne. “As basketball players for Oklahoma City to give to the community, it means a lot.”
When word got out about a special Valentine’s treat, fans and customers alike flocked to the store generating the kind of buzz that was similar to the passionate late night welcomes at Will Rogers airport. As soon as Grant, Kanter, Oladipo and Payne came out of the cold and through the doors, they were met with a hero’s welcome of hand slaps, hugs and cheers.
“That’s what Valentine’s Day is about. They give us so much love,” said Kanter. “All of Thunder Nation gives us so much energy and supports us.”
Made possible by a partnership with the Thunder and Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, the surprise visit was another fun, yet meaningful way for the players to bring people together and spread the love as a show of appreciation for the community’s support of the team.
Putting smiles on faces, sharing laughs and creating memories on such a fitting day nurtured a unique bond between the Thunder and the community. Gratitude of the peerless fan support was what drove Oladipo to somehow upend the pallid skies outside.
“Our fans are the best in the world. They give back to us and we’re trying to find ways to give back to them too,” said Oladipo. “We’re trying to make this rainy day into a sunny day.”
This is why we play. Young Thunder fan J.T. gives Kanter a big hug.
All you need is love. Teammates Oladipo and Grant deliver quips and share love behind the mic.
Smiles and treats all around. Payne: “Love is a very unique thing. I was raised to love one another and treat everyone like you wanted to be treated.”
Watch: Thunder Spreads Valentine's Day Love