By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
MOORE — The NBA season is less than three weeks away and the Oklahoma City Thunder are in full preparation mode. With the motivation of bouncing back from an early postseason exit last year, it’s a pivotal year for the franchise.
However, the Thunder haven’t forgotten one of their most important duties, which is to be a servant to the community that supports them. It’s something general manager Sam Presti has stressed since the organization first arrived.
That’s why the Thunder were in Moore Sunday afternoon holding their annual blue and white scrimmage in front of a packed Westmoore gymnasium of Moore residents including families, school faculty and first responders to the May 20th tornado.
“Obviously we’ve done this every season we’ve been in Oklahoma,” Presti said. “It’s become a tradition. That’s an important thing for us to continue to establish that and bring the open scrimmage to many different places. But this year, obviously, it holds a lot of significance for our organization. We are proud to be here and the players are excited to play in front of the support that’s here in Moore.”
Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and the rest of the Thunder played three 10 minute quarters of basketball. It was the first time this season anyone in the U.S. has gotten to see the team play live.
The boys and girls basketball teams from Moore, Westmoore and Southmoore were on hand before the fans were allowed in and they had serious conversation with Presti about a variety of topics. They also got to see examples of giving back to their community.
“I hope to take away the spirit of giving back,” Westmoore athletic director John Burris said. “These guys with the Thunder didn’t have to do this. But they chose to. So hopefully when our athletes see somebody in need, hopefully they will learn how to give back and reach out.”
The Thunder also set up a mini Thunder Alley at Westmoore. The Thunder girls, Rumble, Storm Chasers and the Thunder Drummers also added to the event.
“It means a great deal,” Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis said. “We are looking at probably the best team in the country coming out and supporting us. It doesn’t get any better than that. These guys have been tremendous. They donated their personal money, donated the team money to help victims in the tornado. We’re just very blessed they are here helping us. I think that everyone that showed up here is a big supporter of them. It’s a mutual thing. They are part of the community.”
Being part of the community, Thunder officials know how important getting back to normal is for residents. That is why before the scrimmage, in conjunction with the Thunder Cares Foundation, Presti announced as part of the reconstruction of Briarwood Elementary School, Plaza Towers Elementary and Highland East junior High, the Thunder is going to rebuild the outdoor basketball courts at each school.
“It’s something we’ve done in several communities throughout the state,” Presti said. “One of the things we’ve been focused on as an organization is continuing to try to grow the game of basketball in the state of Oklahoma. The refurbishing of courts and building of courts, is one avenue for us to help the community. But also continue to stimulate the growth of the game that we love in the state that we love.”
For Jimi Fleming, Public Information Officer for Moore Public Schools, the gift of the new courts is bigger than basketball.
“It means a lot for the schools, one, because it’s a financial assist,” Fleming said. “But it means even more to the community. When you go to either Briarwood, Plaza or Highland East, those outdoor basketball courts, that’s the center for that community. People think about a school system and some times don’t realize how much a school can be the center of that local neighborhood. By coming in and installing those courts, they are really helping bring our community back together.”