By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com
During the NBA season, a Saturday in between Friday and Sunday games is typically a prime practice day. Just before the Thunder loaded up on the team busses, however, the team dropped a surprise on them. Instead of suiting up for a final practice of the season, they were informed they’d be heading to Wake Me When I’m Free – a pop-up museum honoring Tupac Shakur in downtown Los Angeles.
Shakur, who went by 2Pac as a musician, was a poet, actor and civil rights activist who had massive cultural influence in the 1990s prior to his murder. He was only 25 years old when he passed away, but his wisdom shined through in his words, which were displayed across the walls of the museum in a variety of forms, but most powerfully from the pages of his own hand-written notebooks.
In an extremely short period of time, Shakur left his mark on the music and film industries in addition to, as the best artists do, holding a mirror up to his own society to show his fellow Americans the triumphs, struggles and frustrations of those who didn’t have a microphone and a rapt national audience.
“He did a good job with his platform, using his platform the right way to get an awareness out there, trying to be a positive influence,” said rookie Tre Mann, who had just been listening to 2Pac’s music the day before and felt meaning behind the coincidence that 24 hours later he’d be getting an in-depth view into Shakur’s life.
Thunder players streamed into a bright white room with artistic representations of some of Shakur’s most meaningful tattoos to begin the tour. Wearing headsets and remote controls around their necks, Thunder players then weaved their way through the museum, which demonstrated the winding road that was Tupac’s life – the son of a civil rights activist, his childhood in poverty, his artistic genius as a teenager, eventual rise to mainstream prominence, his imprisonment, death and lasting societal impact.
All season long, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been wearing vintage 2Pac t-shirts into arenas prior to games, so the visit to the museum was a unique opportunity for him to dive deeper.
“At first I just like the T’s and the more I got into it, I learned so much about him and kind of turned into a fan,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “He was so intelligent. That's what I didn't know before. He was this super smart guy, super creative. It was just cool to see that side of him that I didn't know.”
While Thunder assistant coach Mike Wilks and veteran Derrick Favors bopped to Shakur’s debut hit with Digital Underground “Same Song”, Darius Bazley gazed closely at Shakur’s poetry. The display of Shakur’s hand-written poems included a particularly poignant one called “And 2morrow”, which ends with the lines:
And tomorrow I wake with second wind
And strong because of pride
To know I fought with all my heart to keep my dream alive
As the Thunder ends its season in Los Angeles, with an offseason ahead to get better individually and collectively as a unit, the team can look back at the year with a similar pride in the way they all pursued their NBA dreams this season. As a result, Saturday’s surprise field trip was a perfect bonding experience to send the group off into the summer with both inspiration and togetherness.