The Seattle SuperSonics came to Oklahoma City in 2008 and became the Thunder; since then, the team has remained beloved, winning a division title in the 2010-11 season and a Western Conference championship in the 2011-12 season.
While strength and showmanship on the basketball court are big factors in the Thunder’s status as a cherished part of Oklahoma culture, some may say the team’s best work happens off the court in the communities players call home.
In addition to the phenomenal work of the Thunder Cares Foundation, Thunder community activities in the Oklahoma region include conducting basketball and art camps, playing bingo with residents at local nursing homes, reading stories to kids and volunteering with Positive Tomorrows – a nonprofit that partners with families experiencing homelessness to educate children and create pathways to success.
The Thunder also sponsors the Rolling Thunder book bus, in partnership with American Fidelity. This year, the Thunder is also spearheading a Black Heritage Creative Contest. Students in grades 9-12 are invited to submit an original poster that describes or depicts an inspirational experience, moment or an individual in Black history and how the students have been personally inspired. Winners will receive a Thunder uniform and warm-up suit, and tickets to games in February 2024.
The holiday season is an important time for Thunder community partners. Players participate in church giveaways and projects to ensure that those in need have necessary items for the season.
Each player has his favorite charities – and some even operate foundations and community programs themselves. Luguentz Dort, for example, has his own foundation in Montreal, Canada, called the Maizon Dort Foundation, where he works within the communities he once lived.
Another player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, has taken an interest in art and creative pursuits, conducting camps with kids at Oklahoma Contemporary’s art space. Children participating in these camps paint custom sneakers and end the programming with a fashion show.
“It is important to be good stewards of the community’s love and trust,” says Christine Berney, the Thunder’s vice president of community engagement. “It’s fun work and very important to us.”
Thunder forward Jaylin Williams says he loves participating with Thunder Cares, but is most proud of the basketball camp he conducted this past summer. The camp was held at the same high school he went to in Fort Smith, Ark.
“The moment that sticks with me is the day I was leaving one of the camps, and all the kids were running up to me and giving me hugs,” he says. “It was clear that it meant a lot to them that I was there.”
When asked about the upcoming season, Williams says his main goal is simply to improve, since he spent a lot of time last year learning the basics of being in the NBA.
“I just want to continue to do better, and anticipate what my teammates need,” he says. “To build on that chemistry with the team.”
Guard Aaron Wiggins is also passionate about community involvement. He loves the back-to-school backpack drives and helping kids get the tools they need to thrive. Wiggins recently went with Dort to his basketball camp back in Montreal.
“At the camp, some of the kids wanted to play one-on-one with me, and afterwards they had questions about how to improve their game,” says Wiggins. “It was rewarding to be able to help them grow in their skills and effectiveness – on and off the court. It’s an honor to be a role model in the community.”