Tahlequah Daily Press

May 22, 2013

Thunder, NBA donate to tornado relief efforts

By BRIAN MAHONEY
Associated Press

— NEW YORK — Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett began hearing from people around the NBA within minutes of Monday’s tornado.

Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver called. So did fellow owners and colleagues, all asking what they could do to help.

Some made donations, but Bennett believes the organization had a responsibility to do even more for the fans that have been so welcoming since the team arrived five years ago.

“This community is all about family. It’s all about supporting each other, and when things like this happen, we rally and we take care of each other,” Bennett said in a phone interview. “The community’s been so supportive of this team and we’ve had such an incredible connection with the citizens here and across the state, that we really feel that it’s our absolute responsibility to do all we can to help.”

Bennett has seen the way Oklahoma embraced his team when he moved it from Seattle to his home state in 2008, and he said watching some of those people suffer after the tornado devastated the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore made it feel “very close.”

“This team connects with everyone,” he said. “It connects with every demographic, every geographic part of the city and state. Race, religion across the board. The team and our guys have been completely accepted and when this happened, it just felt like family. Our fans, the people who support us, who embrace our team, our organization, and then to watch coverage and to see so many people wearing their Thunder shirts, it’s very close.”

So the Thunder sent their business and front office staffs out to help with blood drives and volunteer in locations that were receiving food and materials. And the team matched the $1 million donation to relief efforts made by All-Star Kevin Durant.

“As extraordinary as that number is, it does not surprise me a bit,” Bennett said of Durant’s pledge. “And it doesn’t surprise me that he was the first one to do it.”

The NBA and the players’ union also announced a joint $1 million pledge on Tuesday. The money will be going to the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other disaster relief efforts on Monday. Durant said seeing the devastation in his adopted hometown was “tough to watch.” But he also believes the community will band together to get through such a difficult time, as does Bennett.

“Everyone’s really focused on wanting to help and wanting to engage in a meaningful way,” Bennett said.

The Red Cross is accepting $10 pledges from people who text “REDCROSS” to 90999. People can also donate at the organization’s website.