By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com
Thunder Family Reunites for Legacy Weekend
Nenad Krstić’s last NBA season began in a Thunder jersey, part of a two-and-half season stint in Oklahoma City, a relative blip in the span of a 16-year professional career. As Krstić began closing that chapter of his professional journey however, a new life began: his daughter’s.
Despite beginning his career in his home country of Serbia and playing in Russia and Turkey to conclude his career, Oklahoma City is a place that Krstić will remember forever not just because of what happened on the floor, but because of the way his life changed as a man, a husband and a father. So when the Thunder organization reached out to Krstić about its inaugural Thunder Legacy Network Weekend, which took place April 1-3, he thought it was the perfect opportunity.
“My daughter was born here,” said Krstić. “I wanted to show her where she was born. We had so many great memories and I just wanted to meet my ex-teammates and see some people from the organization. I’m really happy to be here.”
The Thunder Legacy Network was developed over two years ago, with plans in place for a holistic weekend to welcome former Thunder players not currently on an NBA roster back to Oklahoma City to reunite with the fan base, the organization and one another late in the 2019-20 season. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Thunder to press pause on that weekend, but with fans back in Paycom Center in 2021-22, the team was able to execute the vision.
On Friday afternoon, in the hours before the Thunder’s home game against the Detroit Pistons, part of a four-game stretch in Oklahoma City to end the home half of the schedule, over a dozen former players landed at Will Rogers World Airport and made their way to the Omni Hotel right across the street from Paycom Center. The hotel, which sits just to the east of Scissortail Park, is a brand-new fixture on the Oklahoma City skyline, part of a surge of downtown development that has turned heads of alumni as they navigated into the city.
After gathering to take group photos at the Omni late Friday afternoon, the former members of the Thunder were greeted by Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett and Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti in one of the Founder’s Lounges on the event level inside Paycom Center.
Cole Aldrich reconnected with former teammate Daequan Cook, both of whom were a part of the Thunder team that went to the NBA Finals in 2012. Steven Hill and Mustafa Shakur, who played just one and three total games respectively for the Thunder, were welcomed with the same respect as any other Thunder family member. In the words of Presti, “If you play for the Thunder for one game or your entire career, we want people to feel like they are always welcome back home.”
At the end of the first quarter against Detroit, the arena spotlights swung to the Post Oak Party Terrace, where the former players were honored with a tribute video and a rousing applause from the fans in the arena. As the overhead lights cut back on, the Thunder’s current players continued their round of applause as they gazed up to the end zone where their predecessors stood.
“It’s fun to see those guys, go to a game and be able to interact with them over this weekend, and just enjoy it,” said former Thunder center Cole Aldrich, who played in Oklahoma City from 2010 through 2012. “It’s great to be back and to see the fans.”
After the game Friday night the former players were treated to a night out in Oklahoma City, headlined by a heartfelt toast by Presti. Bright and early on Saturday morning, the Thunder offered special health screenings in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association and also hosted a basketball clinic with Big Brothers, Big Sisters at Paycom Center where the alumni gave back to the community they called home, no matter how long that residence may have been.
Later that afternoon, busses brought the players up to the Thunder ION, where the current team practices each day and many of the former players once put in the sweat equity that helped set the standards the organization lives by today. Instead of basketballs bouncing, the only orbs being tracked at the ION on Saturday were Easter eggs, as the Thunder welcomed in the families of the former players as well as current players and staff for a special Easter celebration.
“It’s just sticking to our word that this is family. We preach it in the locker room, but this takes it a next step,” said former guard Andre Roberson, who was a Thunder defensive ace from 2013-2020.
Afterward, the former players returned to the Omni to watch the Final Four together as Aldrich and Nick Collison’s Kansas Jayhawks advanced to the NCAA Championship game against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. The weekend wrapped up on Sunday morning with a brunch and a tour of the ION.
While some players, like Krstić, traveled great distances to enjoy the weekend’s festivities, some, like Nick Collison, just had to step outside of their offices. Four former Thunder players are currently employed by the team – Collison, who serves in the Thunder’s front office, along with Oklahoma City Blue General Manager Nazr Mohammed and Thunder assistant coaches Mike Wilks and Eric Maynor.
“The organization does a good job of being honest with you as a player, being fair and then trying to provide everything that they can to try to make your experience good to try to improve as a player,” said Collison. “It’s just a certain way of doing business, that people leave and they feel pretty good about their experience.”
There’s an emotional pull for Thunder players to return to Oklahoma City when they’re playing career is done, whether it’s to continue their professional lives or even just for a weekend to reconnect and reminisce.