Thunder helps OKC heal from 1995 explosion
For many Americans, Oklahoma City is defined not by its charm, friendly people or eclectic neighborhoods but by tragedy.
The Oklahoma City bombing nearly 20 years ago remains a part of the fabric of daily life here and that is something Sam Presti believes everyone should appreciate.
He is the general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose team faces the Miami Heat in a series that begins tomorrow just blocks from where the Alfred P. Murrah building once stood.
"When my players take the court for the first time I tell them to look into the stands," he told Reuters. "Look at the 18,000 people. Every one has been affected by the bombing in some way, shape or form."
At 9:02 a.m. (local time) on April 19, 1995, an explosion destroyed the Murrah building and with it the innocence of this proud city. There were 168 deaths, more than 700 injuries, and thousands of nightmares.
Presti demands that every player on the Thunder visit the museum on the site where the building once stood. Most were too young to recall the blast but become emotional when standing on hallowed ground.
"I didn't go there just one time, I went seven or eight times," said Thunder guard Royal Ivey. "I took my whole family there. The city came together in tragedy.
"They didn't turn their backs on each other. They came together and helped each other for that one cause.
"Part of what the Thunder does is help the city rebuild, get over that tragedy. We're a big part of Oklahoma. The city has really taken us in. We're about community and togetherness."
Presti is a native of Massachusetts and is quick to mention that he was not in Oklahoma City in 1995 so he, like his players, had to learn what happened to the city.
"In order to understand what it means to play here, you also have to understand the history of that tragedy, the impact it's had on people of this community," he said.
"The experience of going by the memorial was appropriate," said 37-year-old Thunder guard Derek Fisher, who joined the team in March as a free agent. "When you come to this community and you join the team you become an instant member of the community.
"Without having any understanding of its history and what the community was before the bombing and where the community is now, it makes it tough for you to feel at home.
"The time spent there was well worth it. It was obviously emotional. But it gave me a great sense of who the people are in this community and what they're made of."
The bombing is never far below the surface here but Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001 for the crime, is rarely mentioned.
Thunder forward Kevin Durant, the NBA's three-time leading scorer who is seeking his first championship, said his experience at the museum "meant a lot."
He was on the Seattle SuperSonics when the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City four seasons ago and the city, still healing from the calamity, has embraced the club.
"You can tell just by landing here in Oklahoma City, just meeting people in the airport, that this city is a tight-knit family," Durant said.
"With us coming here, it just made it even closer. It's just a blessing to be a part of a great city even though they went through a tough tragedy."