Durant and Westbrook Support Paralyzed Teen Tom Babb

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

DENVER – The swath of hallway outside the Thunder locker room on Tuesday night was quite the scene.

A 19-year old, Tom Babb, sat in his wheelchair in the middle of the corridor surrounded by family and friends. Through the mob, one thing was clear – someone had scribbled all over his face in permanent marker.

Just minutes earlier, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had emerged from the Thunder locker room, freshly showered and changed after the Thunder’s 124-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets. Unbeknownst to both of them, Babb was waiting just outside. When Durant walked out, his face lit up with acknowledgement and he immediately came over to say hello. Westbrook, once he stepped out of the locker room a moment later, joined in on the conversation. After a bit, Babb realized something terrible – he didn’t have anything for them to sign.

“I had Kevin sign my forehead and got a selfie with him,” Babb said. “Russell Westbrook came out and signed my cheek and I got a selfie with both of them. It was awesome.”

A photo posted by Tom Babb (@tbabb02) on

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Four months ago, life was completely different for Babb. He and his family, natives of Evergreen, Colo., were on vacation in Hawaii. Just like any teenager would, Babb was enjoying the sunshine, the sand and the waves and decided to jump into the ocean. Babb sprinted into the water and dove headfirst into a breaking wave.

In an awful stroke of misfortune, there was a sand bar hidden under that crashing wave and in an instant, Babb’s whole life changed. He broke his neck in the collision with the hard mound of sand, and was underwater without oxygen for a considerable time.

“I thought I was going to die,” Babb said bluntly.

When Babb rose to the surface, his father raced into the ocean and dragged him to shore. It was a battle to even get from the hospital in Hawaii back to the renowned Craig Hospital in Denver, but once there, Babb’s rehabilitation has gone well and he’s starting to get some movement back in his arms. Even more importantly, he’s bounced back emotionally.

“I’ve gotten a lot back and mentally I’m pretty stable at this point,” Babb explained. “I’m not so sad anymore and I’m ready to move on.”

Just three weeks after his life-altering accident, Durant heard about the incident from Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan, who is a lifelong friend of a family friend of the Babb family. When Durant found out about the situation and Babb’s rehabilitation efforts, the Thunder forward sent along a photo of himself holding a piece of paper with #tomstrong written on it.

A photo posted by Tom Babb (@tbabb02) on

“That was awesome,” Babb said. “It was the coolest thing ever.”

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When Donovan helped arrange for the Babb’s and his longtime friends to come to the game in Denver on Thursday, Tom likely didn’t expect any sort of postgame meet-up with two NBA All-Stars. Once those locker room doors swung open, however, Babb had a story he could tell for the rest of his life, and perhaps a little extra energy boost as he continues his recovery.

“It was great to see them in the flesh,” Babb gushed. “I had butterflies when I saw them and still have butterflies right now.”

Neither Durant nor Westbrook knew anything about the impending encounter until seconds beforehand. Without a thought, as team leaders and faces of the NBA, both players jumped at the opportunity to impact a young man’s life. With their platforms, Durant and Westbrook realize the power they have to make positive contributions to people all over the world. Tuesday night in Denver was the quintessential example of the way both of them strive to do just that.

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