Honoring those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever on April 19, 1995
Ivan Martinez was only 10 days old when he lost his dad. He never had the chance to have a father-son experience at a basketball game. That is, until Tuesday night when he stood at center court, holding a jersey with his father’s name on it.
Rev. Gilbert X Martinez was killed on April 19, 1995, assisting a church member in the Social Security offices on the first floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
"I have season tickets for this year and the fact that I want to bring my kid one day to the game eventually if I’m lucky enough, that brought emotions out of me like I never have because I know that I want to be that kind of father and I know he wishes he could have been that kind of father but he’s not here. But the fact that I’m holding his jersey shows that he’s been here throughout my whole life and in this year that I’m learning a lot, he’s still there for me," said Martinez.
All eyes in Chesapeake Energy Arena fixated on Thunder Vision. Wide eyes and watery eyes alike soaked in the powerful video during pregame on Tuesday recounting the story of the bombing that shook downtown Oklahoma City nearly a quarter of a century ago.
The video concluded and the lights rose in the arena to reveal 168 people standing proudly at center court. Each one holding a distinct charcoal grey Thunder jersey outlined in gold.
They were holding the Thunder's 2020 City Edition jerseys created in partnership with the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and Nike to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the event that shaped the city forever. All 168 of those killed in the bombing were represented on the floor by family members with the name of the loved one lost inscribed on the back of each jersey. They ranged in age from 11-90.
"The 25th anniversary is important to remember and we’re so grateful to our partners with the Thunder who have given us this opportunity to hand a jersey to each family member representing their loved one," said Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. "It's kind of our way of saying thank you and a token of our appreciation for entrusting the guardianship of their story to us."
Emotion hung heavy as the pregame ceremony unfolded. Leading off the event was the invocation led by Reverend Ronnie Fields who lost his mother Carol June "Chip" Fields in the bombing. A presentation of the colors by members of the Oklahoma City Police Department, the Oklahoma City Fire Department and EMSA represented all of the first responders who courageously risked their lives in service. Punctuating the ceremony was a performance of the National Anthem by Ernestine Dillard whose powerful voice paid tribute to her inspiring rendition of "God Bless America" to close an internationally-televised prayer service held at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds just days after the Bombing. The weight of the tragic day balanced with the hope and resilience of the city left a lasting impression on all those in the confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena – even the players. “That’s tough because for a lot of guys on our team, some of them weren’t even born then and for me, I was 10 years old and I remember that. I remember being at school and everything,” said Thunder point guard Chris Paul. “So it’s tough, and then playing here my first two years knowing how much that event impacted the city.”
“It was amazing. Just a ten out of ten,” said Steven Adams on the pregame ceremony. “It’s just unbelievably special and obviously the Thunder does a good job of showing us the memorial. It’s just something different, it’s absolutely amazing and the memorial does a really good job of paying respect to those who lost their lives. They’re not forgotten and the Thunder does a really good job of keeping them alive in that way. It was touching, mate.”
After the ceremony, each family member carried with them a tangible memory, an heirloom, a way to remember forever. Each jersey served a different purpose for each family member.
“To be able to have something like this with my name on it, one of a kind, and to be able to tell the story that goes with it and that we are able to remember our loved ones in this way it is cool to have something like this,” said Jason Biddy who lost his grandmother in the attack.
Family members travelled from all over the country to be a part of the event with eight states represented among the group. Families from near and far embraced at the sight of each other, catching up like old friends. They’ve been united over two and half decades by a common factor that changed all of their lives forever. Travelling from California, Dina Abulon dropped everything and took a day off from work to make the trip to Oklahoma City. Honoring her stepfather and being a part of the community took priority for her.
“It reminds us that other people still care and that we’re not here by ourselves trying to survive and get on with our daily lives,” said Abulon.
Since April 19, 1995, the story of the bombing has been woven into the fabric of Oklahoma City’s history. Now, it’s woven carefully into the fabric of the Thunder’s 2020 City Edition jerseys on display for all to see on the global NBA stage. The story of a strong, resilient city who stood united in solidarity in a time of tragedy.
“After all these years, it’s amazing to know that the city, the Thunder, everybody still remembers our family, still remembers all the victims, still remembers all the survivors,” said Ryan Whicher who lost his father Alan Whicher in the bombing. “Even though it’s something that happened 25 years ago, it’s still part of the fabric of this city and obviously the Thunder is a huge part of the city and to have that interwoven with us remembering the tragedy that happened and all of the happiness that has come out of it and all the great things, this is proof that this city loves and this city cares and it’s an amazing feeling.”