The crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena begins to roar as Rumble the Bison comes out with an 8-foot cannon during a media time out. In your gut, you almost feel a sense of eagerness and hope: will you be the one to catch a t-shirt tonight?
It’s one of the simple pleasures about going to a basketball game, but the t-shirt toss resonates with fans as it gives them another exciting aspect of the arena. The shirt literally travels from the court to your seat.
But in the absence of basketball, this activity has been gone from most peoples’ lives for months.
The Oklahoma City Thunder recently found a way to utilize their surplus of shirts as a means to help the community. In late April, the Thunder announced that they would be working with Devon Energy to transform their t-shirts into masks to help out essential workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.
“The distribution plan was very intentional, and included hospitals and health care organizations in the Greater OKC and Tulsa area, in addition to a number of nonprofits on the front lines that are working to serve the needs of a great many Oklahomans at this time,” Thunder Community Relations Vice President Christine Berney told the Daily Thunder. “We also hope the organizations that received these one-of-a-kind Thunder masks got a bit of a morale boost knowing the Thunder was thinking of them and recognizing the important work they do.”
According to Berney, this was one of the Thunder’s initial ideas in responding to the pandemic. While the transition process of turning t-shirts into masks may seem like a hassle, the creative team worked hard to make it run efficiently.
“We still stayed true to form in our detailed planning and execution – there were many moving parts, and many people had a hand in making it a success,” Berney said. “Our vendors were creative and flexible, so it was really a fairly smooth transition.”
This smooth transition allowed the team to quickly distribute the masks to many healthcare providers across Oklahoma. The response from the essential workers has been extremely positive.
“The Thunder donation of thousands of face coverings was incredibly helpful and timely,” Tulsa Health Department Clinic Services manager Ellie Niemitalo said. “The Tulsa Health Department (THD) has provided these face coverings to clients as they come into the building. It is a priority to take necessary steps to minimize any potential exposure to both clients and staff as THD continues to provide essential public health services. The donation was received when ordering masks through regular means has been difficult due to significantly increased demand.”
But the Thunder didn’t just give the masks to essential workers.
The Thunder also started to sell masks to the public on the Thunder Shop Online. All proceeds from those sales went to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, both of which serve 77 counties in central, western and eastern Oklahoma. For these organizations, the Thunder is a definitive beacon of hope in the state.
“The Oklahoma City Thunder is, in so many ways, a leader in the state,” Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma communications manager Greg Raskin said. “People look to them for hope and inspiration. When times are good in the state, it’s a great source of entertainment. And when the team is winning, it’s so much fun.”
The OKC region has been spared the most disastrous outcomes of the pandemic so far, but times are far from good. Raskin said that “when the chips are down” and the season interrupted, “to know that (the Thunder) still support the Oklahoma community is really unbelievable.”
And many essential workers, serving their community while the chips are down, are wearing a badge of Thunder inspiration on Oklahoma City’s frontlines today.