Strengthening a Bond, Together

Throughout its longstanding relationship, the Thunder and the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum have demonstrated what it means to be stronger together. On the 25th anniversary of the bombing, the two prominent figures of the OKC community are working hand-in-hand to tell the story of the Oklahoma Standard on a new level and the timeless lesson that out of evil, good can come.

Paris Lawson

By Paris Lawson | Digital Content Reporter |

A lot can happen in 25 years. Newborns develop into full-grown adults; once-barren Elm trees blossom into sprawling, deep-rooted landmarks; and quiet downtowns develop into bustling hives of activity and enterprise.

For the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, two-and-a-half decades have witnessed that generational tide shift, the maturation of its own surviving American Elm and the renaissance of its city center, accelerated by the arrival of an NBA team in July 2008.

The global pandemic of 2020 has necessitated a very different remembrance effort for Sunday’s 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. There can’t be a live ceremony, but the Memorial has produced a television and online program to include 168 seconds of silence and the reading of the names of those who died that April morning. These changes do not dilute the message of remembrance and hope the Memorial provides.

For the Memorial, 2020 marks a significant year of value and progress, in part due to that team that arrived in 2008 and put its community at the forefront of its vision.

The Thunder’s connection to its community is like the engine to a car. It’s what drives hundreds of hours of player community engagement throughout the season, the force behind its loyalty to the Memorial, and the reason behind the design of the 2019-20 City Edition uniform that commemorates the 25th anniversary of April 19, 1995.

Never Forget

Dan Mahoney has been the Thunder vice president of broadcasting and corporate communications since the team arrived in 2008––a role that brings him into any conversation involving the Thunder and the Memorial. But for him, it’s a personal, emotional subject, as his connection to the Murrah Bombing is unlike any other in the Thunder family.

On that sunny spring morning in 1995, Mahoney arrived at the Oklahoma State Capitol at his normal time of 8:30 a.m. He had a busy day planned as director of communications for Governor Frank Keating. When the blast occurred at 9:02 a.m., Mahoney was thrust into a role he never could have imagined when he began the job just two months before.

Mahoney said he saw things that took an emotional toll on him, particularly with the loss of 19 children. His oldest daughter was four at the time, and his youngest had just turned one a week before. He had to balance that shock and emotion with the responsibility of working with Gov. Keating in a historic and important time of Oklahoma public service.

In the hours, days, weeks, months and even years following the tragedy, Mahoney assisted Gov. Keating and First Lady Cathy Keating on a broad array of issues related to the bombing. Whether it was helping to coordinate state media relations efforts during the rescue and recovery, helping with the healing prayer service organized by Mrs. Keating on April 23, 1995 or working with the Keatings to raise millions of dollars for college scholarships for children who lost parents that day, Mahoney found comfort through his role with the Governor.

“The Keatings led our state during that time with a blend of strength, vision and compassion,” Mahoney said. “They remain my lifelong dear friends and mentors.”

The other bright light for Mahoney during the dark days was having a firsthand view of the service, honor and kindness of Oklahomans in what has become known as the Oklahoma Standard. He first heard the term when a Virginia FEMA Urban Search and Rescue team member mentioned it to the Keatings as he was preparing to return home.

“He showed them his ‘Oklahoma dollar,’ the dollar he came with and was leaving with,” Mahoney recalled. “He didn’t have to spend it, everything was provided to him for free. He told the Governor, THAT is the Oklahoma Standard.”

In his current role with the Thunder, Mahoney helps to spread that message on a global scale to a new generation of people, highlighted by a powerful message: out of evil, good can come.

In the years since the bombing, Mahoney also has witnessed a rebirth of the city.

“That tragedy could have brought Oklahoma City to its knees, but it didn’t. The resilience of the city, and our people was inspiring,” he said. “The Thunder is honored to be a part of this community and a component of the renaissance it has experienced. We also are proud to be able to help tell the story with the global reach of the Thunder and the NBA, to be able to bring that message to a new generation of people worldwide who can be inspired by it.”

The community response to the Murrah Bombing is what has motivated Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti to make sure every player new to the city experiences the museum and its lessons. Before the players don Oklahoma City across their chest, it’s critical to know who and what they’re representing.

“I think it’s important for us to realize that as much as it is recognizing the time elapsed, it’s also a reminder to everybody that we all have a responsibility going forward to recognize and make sure that this stays top of mind for everybody in the community and the state that this is not something that can ever be forgotten,” Presti said in December, when he joined the Thunder coaching staff to place holiday wreaths on each of the 168 chairs on the Memorial lawn.

Pushing Forward

As the world continues to evolve with new generations of citizens and the ubiquitous presence of technology, Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, and her team have to navigate the ever-changing times and how they teach individuals from eight years old to 80.

“One thing that’s so important is understanding that we have to adapt,” she said. “How we told the story 25 years ago is not the same way we can tell the story today, not completely anyway.”

This is where the Thunder partnership with the Memorial has blossomed. As a global brand, with more than 14 million social followers and players known throughout the world, the Thunder has the ability to reach and educate a new audience by using its multigenerational, international platform.

Such was the case on the 20th anniversary of the bombing, when the Thunder helped launch the Memorial’s #OKStandard campaign during a nationally televised game. Presti and team executives helped distribute blue wristbands to all those who entered Chesapeake Energy Arena that afternoon. The wristbands, with the words Service, Honor and Kindness in bold white letters, were worn by the fans, coaching staff and players on the floor in a total demonstration of unity.

Now, five years later, it is fitting that the Thunder, working closely with the Memorial, would commit the design of its 2019-20 City Edition uniform to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the bombing.

“It was very clear in working with Nike to tell a story that mattered to Oklahoma and Oklahoma City that the 25th anniversary of the Murrah Bombing was the perfect story to tell,” Mahoney said. “Not just the tragedy of what happened, but the tremendous response, the Oklahoma Standard, how Oklahoma was portrayed nationally and internationally for its response and its kindness and its Oklahoma Standard, but also to move this story forward.”

Every detail of the uniform, from its distinct charcoal grey color scheme to the vents on the shorts to the Survivor Tree belt buckle, was weighed and carefully vetted to honor all those who were changed forever on April 19, 1995.

Watkins distinctly remembered the moment she presented the uniform to the Memorial’s Conscience Committee, a group made up of families, survivors and first responders. Admittedly, she was a little nervous of what their reaction would be, but the response exceeded far beyond her expectations.

The thought that an NBA team would help keep their story alive 25 years later brought out a wave of emotions.

“I’ll never forget emailing (the Thunder) and saying, ‘Guys, not only do they love it, but they’re honored and touched that you would do this. It means so much to them,’ ” she recalled.

Since that moment, the uniforms have spanned a national, global and multigenerational web of influence:

Nov. 5, 2019 – In a powerful on-court tribute before the game, one family member from each of the 168 victims killed in the bombing was presented with a custom City Edition jersey, the name of their loved one was stitched across the back and the number 95 appeared on the front and back. of the City Edition jerseys, which were given to the families of the bombing victims.

Eleven-year-old Kelton Arthur was one of the 168 to stand on the court. “It was just really emotional for me to see that my grandma (Dr. Peggy Clark) was getting recognized,” he said in a wavering voice. “That’s something really amazing happening in our city. … It just made me feel like (the Thunder) know exactly what happened that day and they can relate to what happened.”

Jan. 9, 2020 – The team wore the City Edition uniform for the first time. This was no ordinary game. Russell Westbrook was returning to Oklahoma City for the first time since requesting a trade to the Houston Rockets and the world was watching, with many learning more about the story of the Oklahoma City bombing and the city’s resilience.

The charcoal jerseys swarmed the Rockets, 113-92.

“It was special for us. We all mentioned it before we got out there, ‘We’ve got to make everybody proud,’ ” Thunder guard Dennis Schröder said. “It’s historic and we just tried to make the best game possible, go out there and compete for the people who were here when it happened. It was good for the city.”

March 6, 2020 – It was First Responders Night at Madison Square Garden, a chance for both the New York Knicks and the Thunder to honor those who, 25 years ago, dropped everything, left their families and spent weeks serving the people of Oklahoma City.

Watkins exchanged jerseys with Alice Greenwald, president and CEO of the 9/11 Memorial, in a pregame ceremony that included Gov. Keating, his wife Cathy and Thunder legend Nick Collison, among others.

For the Memorial, its partnership with the Thunder has helped to drive the story of the bombing forward into a new era that consists of an entire generation was born after the horrible event.

“It’s a partnership that’s invaluable to us because it keeps our story relevant and in the minds of people who may not take the time to learn it otherwise,” Watkins said. “(The Thunder and the Memorial) are both unifiers to the community. They both bring people together. The Memorial is in the past, but we want to live in the future and the Thunder is about today and the future.”

The connection between the two has grown with each passing year. The Thunder has had a consistent, visible presence with the Memorial Marathon each year since 2009, from Presti handing out medals to runners at the finish line to Rumble serving as honorary chair-bison in the kids’ fun run. In 2015, the Thunder staff divided into volunteer teams to amplify the Oklahoma Standard message across the metro. This year, the Thunder is providing free admission to the Memorial on the 25th day of each month.

To try to illustrate the breadth of the Thunder’s reach, Watkins said she thinks about the time her own child was playing the popular video game, NBA 2K20. He was picking the uniform for his team when he yelled downstairs to his mom because he could choose the City Edition uniform as an option.

“That’s teaching someone maybe somewhere who would’ve never heard our story any other way,” she said. “That’s a great impact from a jersey and pair of shorts that has tentacles that we may never understand how powerful they were.”

Even before the uniforms, this was the Thunder goal from the beginning, to represent its beloved community with service, honor and kindness–so that when fans across the globe see the Thunder play, they see the Oklahoma Standard. Not only out of respect and honor to those who experienced the unfathomable heartbreak of the day, but to educate the next generation on the valuable and timeless lesson learned by Oklahomans 25 years ago: out of evil, good can come.

For More Stories

'Gallery: Stronger Together' | VIEW
'Through the Eyes of One Special Family' | WATCH
'Remembering 168' | LISTEN
'We Remember' | READ
'Securing an Evergreen Memory' | READ
'Two Cities, One Unbreakable Bond' | READ

'More Than a Jersey: Players Honor 168'

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