The Oklahoma City Thunder were knocked out of the NBA playoffs on May 15, and yet the team has remained active during the postseason. On Tuesday, the Red Cross announced that Thunder All Star forward Kevin Durant had donated $1 million to the relief efforts in the wake of Monday’s tornadoes in Central Oklahoma. The team matched the donation to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, as did the NBA and players’ union. On Friday, Nike followed suit. Thunder General Manager Sam Presti spoke with Bill Littlefield.
BL: The team’s decision to pledge $1 million came very quickly after the disaster. Whose decision was it to do that?
SP: Well, obviously everything starts at the top with our ownership group led by Clayton Bennett. But I can tell you just from the mission of the organization and the values that run so deeply through the community in Oklahoma City that it wasn’t a decision that had to be mulled over very long.
BL: Kevin Durant has declined to talk about his donation, saying only that he’d prefer that it speak for itself. Were you surprised by the amount of his donation or by his humility?
SP: We are incredibly fortunate not only to have Kevin Durant represent us on the basketball floor, but he represents Oklahoma City and this state and this community in exemplary fashion. I wish I could tell you I was surprised, but being around this young person for six years now, this is who he is. It’s authentic, it’s real, and I think it’s one of the reasons why he’s so beloved in this community.
BL: Have his teammates followed suit?
SP: Yeah, everybody within the team on the roster has inquired to our organization as to ways they can contribute. Whether its visits to children’s hospitals, touring the scene, and speaking with people who are going through the remains of their homes and spending some time to support them. Or going to shelters in the area. These are the things that are much more lasting than wins and losses in Oklahoma City. I’m very proud of our players. I’m proud of our organization because this community has supported us so much over the last five years. And this is an opportunity for us to stand by them and support them in a time of need.
BL: I understand that the team has been involved for a long time in various community initiatives, and that as early as Tuesday team members were visiting tornado victims in the hospital. Does the Thunder place more emphasis on community relations than other NBA teams do?
SP: You know, it’s hard for me to comment on other teams and how they organize their efforts in the community, but I can tell you that in Oklahoma City its front and center in all that we do. We embrace our part in the community as a leader when called upon. We understand that the Oklahoma Standard is something you adopt when you live here, when you work here. And we take that very seriously, and I feel very strongly that when our players run out of the tunnel and take the floor and they have Oklahoma city across their chest that with each year that we’re here and more people that we meet, it means that much more to them.
BL: Does the Thunder have any future plans to aid the victims?
SP: That’s something that we’ve made a very strong indication to everyone that we speak with whether its Salvation Army, Red Cross, or the individuals directly. This is a long process this the beginning stages of that process and organizationally we’re prepared to continually invest our time and our resources. It’s going to take all of us to help the people of Moore and the surrounding areas, and we stand ready to do that.
BL: You were born in Massachusetts, and you even played college basketball here, right down the road from us at Emerson College. What does it feel like to be an Oklahoma resident right now?
SP: I call this my home. The people here have adopted me as one of theirs, even though I’m from the Northeast. I try to get back to the Northeast when I can. I love it. But I also understand that to be involved on the ground level, with this being only our fifth season of existence in Oklahoma City, is a tremendous opportunity and not one I take for granted.