By Michael Kinney
After weeks of nothing but practicing against themselves, the Oklahoma City Thunder will finally get a look at another jersey. The first scrimmages of the NBA restart tipped off Wednesday at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.
The Thunder will take the court Friday at 4 p.m. against the Boston Celtics. Being able to see actual competition instead of practices will be a relief for the players.
The first round of exhibition games will have a different feel to them in more ways than one. The NBA decided last week to shorten the games to 10 minutes quarters instead of the usual 12.
All 33 exhibitions to be televised by some combination of local TV, national TV, NBA TV or NBA League Pass.
The first two Thunder scrimmages can be caught on the Thunder Mobile App and at okcthunder.com. The third and final scrimmage against Portland can be seen on Fox Sports.
Because this is such a unique situation, coach Billy Donovan can envision the coaches getting together ahead of time and discussing what situations they want their respective teams to work on.
“I think we’re always open to doing that,” Donovan said. “There is no problem with it. But I think everyone is kind of focused on their team and what they need. I think if there were certain situations you wanted to take a look at, you may have a conversation.”
Is it SGA’s time?
One of the players who has garnered the most attention during the first few weeks of the bubble life has been Thunder second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. His teammates have raved about how much he has improved just off the past four months of the NBA shutdown.
“He is going to be a star in this league,” said Chris Paul, who has taken Gilgeous-Alexander under his wings. “We’ll just continue to try to educate each other on everything that’s going around going on around us, not just the game.”
When asked why so many people believe he has such a bright future, Gilgeous-Alexander said it comes down to work ethic and what he is willing to do.
“I want to be great. But then there’s the time you put into it and not everyone’s willing to do that. But that’s something I’m willing to do,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
Adjusting to bubble life
The Thunder has joined 21 other NBA teams sequestered away at the resort for the restart. While several players have voiced their complaints about their surroundings, the Oklahoma City squad seems to be just taking it all in stride and looking at the big picture.
“Let’s be clear: This is not Syria. It’s not that hard. It’s not that difficult. We’re living at a bloody resort. Everyone is going to complain, everyone has their own preferences. But it’s not anything too serious. Dry food here and there, get bored every now and then. It’s all good, man.”
For Lu Dort, he uses his free time to improve his skills on video games so he can challenge his older teammates.
“I am not playing Fifa, Dort said. “I just started playing. I heard the best one is Mike Muscala and Dennis (Schroder). But I am trying to get better to just play against them.”
When Abdel Nader is not practicing or in film sessions, he says he is often reading or meditating.
Adams isn’t the only player from the Thunder who is looking at the bigger picture. Paul made sure to bring attention to the deaths of civil rights leads John Lewis and CT Vivian after being asked a basketball question during his viral media session.
“It’s about life, and who you are as a human being,” Paul said. “Today is a sad day in that we lost two of the most powerful activists that we’ve ever had, C.T. Vivian and John Lewis. The impact that they had on America I think is unbelievable. I think a lot of times people look at us athletes as heroes and what we can do as far as dunking a basketball or throwing a touchdown, but the things that they did as human beings. I don’t think we do enough learning and teaching about it. I think that’s more important than any other stuff that’s going on down here.”
Even though Paul is away from his family while he is in the NBA bubble, he still wanted to make sure his children were learning life lessons.
“All I could think about was trying to educate my kids more on these things because at times we tend to teach them about athletics and sports and different things,” Paul said. “But I think the real education of some of these pioneers and these activists who fought, day in and day out, to give us these freedoms that I think we at times take for granted.”
Paul takes his role as an elder statesman on the team seriously. He says he makes sure to spend time with his much younger teammates during their isolation away from the real world.
“I think that’s the coolest part about being together right now in these situations is that we can talk, and understand what’s going on in America right now, the different social injustices and ways that they can be active and the ways that they can let their voices be heard,” Paul said.
Part of being heard also means using his platform as a star in the NBA. On Wednesday, Paul announced he was joining Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade to create the Social CHange Fund.
“Our mission is to address socio-economic injustice issues facing Black and Brown communities by making meaningful change,” Paul stated on social media. “Looking forward to building a better, more equal tomorrow.”
Story & Photo by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media