One thing we Oklahomans rarely get an opportunity to realize, is our attachment to athletes within the state.
We have two to three primary colleges, (if you count Tulsa), and some minor league teams in baseball, football, etc. We have had the ability to enjoy our college athletes for a few years, and then watch them as some of them move on to the NBA, NFL, or other sport. Dez Bryant, DiMarco Murray, Adrian Peterson, Marcus Smart...all came up through the ranks of Oklahoma colleges, but the attachment of fans to these athletes occurs at the professional level, whether its the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, or St. Louis Cardinals (Matt Holliday).
Yet, our life in the NBA can still be reckoned as being relatively young for Oklahoma City.
We love our Thunder players. We are attached to most of them. Even the ones we don't like, often seem to have a soft side, or up side that helps keep an off court attachment from fans to players.
For instance, all the commercials we've seen for decades about the NBA helping out in the community...weren't quite as real (at least to me). Most of us know that the NBA, NFL, and MLB retain the rights to athlete's for use in league promotional commercials and initiatives. But, honestly, knowing that somehow made it part of a job, to me, rather than seeing the attachment of the athletes to the cities, people, and kids of their home teams.
The tornadoes in Oklahoma last year, changed much of that, for me, along with my wife working at OU Children's Hospital. The Moore tornado surely took the mojority of media attention, but there were efforts around the state as well, showing a presence of the NBA players' commitments to Oklahoma. The team showed up to help, Football coaches showed up to help, and above it all were transplants in OKC opening their wallets, to the tune of millions, to help a hurting people.
It was touching...allergy inducing touching to most male-kinds.
I was particularly attached to Thabo Sefalosha. Thabo wasn't the most high profile player in OKC, over the past few years, but was a solid Thunder player that fit in with the family. He knew his role, and worked incredibly hard to perform his best....on and off the court.
Thabo gave his time and money to The Children's Hospital Foundation, YouthServices of Oklahoma County, and also Feed The Children, while in Oklahoma City as part of the Thunder.
This presents a picture of a family man, that worked with the privileged life of an NBA player, with more financial resources than the average person...engaging his family into bettering the life of children here in Oklahoma.
My favorite part of his participation? He was a non-political advocate for the future of our state. He didn't get embroiled in the many discussions and debates about how our state manages its affairs. Instead, he simply used his personage, influence, and money to provide assistance to charitable organizations that bettered the children of our fine state.
What a stand up guy... What a stand up family. I don't think his wife gets enough credit for being part of Thabo's time in OKC. We should be truly grateful for the grace and love given by this family during their time here.
But... The NBA remains a business, and as Thunder fans, we must split the difference between loving our players, and knowing which ones may not be here next year. In fact, we split the difference three ways, at times, loving the team, liking some players, and disliking others... I've been guilty, as most of us have, of making statements like "you have got to get him off the floor, he's killing us!" [referring to Thabo].
That's what makes having an NBA team fun, frustrating and exhilirating.
I've heard it said that sports is the only truly unscripted reality television left. Perhaps mixing NBA sports at the highest level, and Oklahoma's rabid dedication to college athletics, has created the perfect storm of a home for the Thunder. (pun intended)
And yet...Collision gets older every year. Fisher didn't become an assistant, he became a head coach for another team. Hasheem Thabeet's awesome antics and bench leading cheer section....[pause for a minute...who doesn't love it when he gets in a game and throws a shot up into Loud City?!], can't last forever. And really, who doesn't want to see the untamed force of hooptology combine with the Sheep, or PJ3 for a backboard rattling alley oop? We yearn to see the potential become reality for our younger players and their time on court with Russ and KD.
Nothing gold can stay.
We've encountered an attachment factor the likes we've never seen before. College athlete's are here for a few years, Oklahoma knows that system...and we've prepared ourselves for watching them move on...
But I wasn't ready to let Thabo go, as a dude. As a player, I knew his time was up...after coming back from his mid-season injuy, his defense slowed a bit, and his shot was horrible. Not rocket science, when you know his contract is coming up.
I want a good player, but I also have gotten to know the man, from a distance...quietly supporting organizations out of our spotlight...not a hero...not a savior...just a family giving back.
Man I'm gonna miss him. He's a class act. I offered my services to help him with his jumpshot a bit, but perhaps my rates were too high.
As we talk about getting free-agents, and building around our solid foundation...We do so in a league where, over the years, Shaq left a dominate team, Dwight Howard fled to brighter opportunities, LeBron goes back home, Garnett wins a championship by leaving the Northern Heartland for Bean City.
Nothing gold can stay...
I say be attached, and excited, and maybe we get so see some players be successful outside of OKC as we journey towards our ultimate goal.
Funny, though, how something as silly as an NBA team, can show us how our hearts sometimes get attached to things we never intended...and that the age old truth, "no risk, no reward", still holds true...I don't plan on becoming un-attached to any Thunder players anytime soon...it has already opened my eyes to a few great guys and families that Oklahoma is very privileged to have known.
Stay golden Thabo.