By Michael Kinney
When most NBA teams go on long road trips, their down time can provide a variety of things to do in different cities. Everything from shopping to going to the movies can be on the nightly agenda.
However, the Oklahoma City Thunder decided to be just a little different this week. In the middle of a three-game stretch on the East Coast, the Thunder made a special trip to visit the White House Tuesday.
“Today was a great experience,” said Will Dawkins, the Thunder VP of Basketball Operations. “We were able to get our guys while we had an off date here in DC to just take some time, come tour the White House, the People’s House.”
The Thunder visited the White House for a discussion with White House staff on multiple policy issues and a partial screening and conversation on the film “Seeds of Greenwood.”
The documentary, which was produced by OKC Thunder Films, chronicles the first year of the Thunder’s innovative afterschool program, Thunder Fellows, in Tulsa (Ok.).
The entire Thunder team and staff toured the White House. For most of them, it was the first time they had been to the home of the President of the United States.
“Toured the White House as a team. Learned a lot of things. Kind of a different side of the world,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I personally learned so much. I’m grateful for the opportunity. There were so many things about politics, so much history about the building itself. So many things that I had no clue about. Not only being from Canada but just not knowing this side of the world. It was a great experience.”
Following a White House tour, members of the team sat down with White House staff to discuss a wide range of policy issues including criminal justice, health, and education.
“I think it was really cool to get our voices kind of heard and be able to have an open discussion about different things that we kind of see,” Thunder rookie Jalen Williams said. “You have two different groups with two different perspectives on the stuff that’s happening in America. So it’s good that we were able to come together and figure out and kind of brainstorm different solutions and how we all see the world. So, it was really cool that they were even willing to kind of hear us and it was cool that we were able to give our opinion as well.”
After the discussion, the Thunder screened a portion of “Seeds of Greenwood” in a theater at the White House.
The film explores how today’s generation of black high school students in Tulsa is being planted and nurtured within the fertile soil of the historic Greenwood District more than a century after the Tulsa Race Massacre.
The film follows the birth of Thunder Fellows and the inspirational journeys of students in the inaugural class. Thunder Fellows is located in the Greenwood district.
“We always talk about growth as basketball players, but the best growth in life is as human beings and seeing those kids almost transform themselves,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “They have bright futures and I’m glad just to be a small part of that program to help them in their lives.”
Besides the two Thunder fellows, Reece Robinson and Nzinga Collins, it does not appear that the Thunder had any members of the Tulsa community with them on the visit. There didn’t seem to be anyone with them who is being directly affected by destruction of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street and all of the General Wealth that went up in flames or was taken from black community. .
It would have been a stronger impact and message to have seen people who grew up in Tulsa, who deal with the police, social services, violent streets, and school systems have the opportunity to sit down with members of the White House staff to talk policy and what the community needs from those who live and work in that community.
Regardless, it is still good to see players getting a chance to show they have concerns away from the court and have the opportunity to express them.
“There’s a lot of things that we try to do to develop a whole player and person,” Dawkins said. “We have a ‘Beyond the Baseline’ program for our first or third year players where when we’re in cities, we try to do stuff that’s not just about basketball. And this was a great opportunity for people to talk about things that are important to them, things that are important in their community, and bring it to the White House and have discussions about that. So, it’s a good off day when you kind of talk about developing the full profile of a person.”
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Photos provided by the OKC Thunder