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Sam Presti talks Thunder, NBA’s Return to Play and Racial Injustice

Sam Presti talks Thunder,  NBA’s Return to Play and Racial Injustice

Sam Presti, Thunder Executive Vice President & General Manager, spoke with media members via video conference call today.

Though he spoke at length about the NBA’s return and this year’s Thunder team, it was clear the most important topic of conversation in Presti’s eyes was the racial injustice in our country today.

As Sam Presti always does, he delivered an eloquent, well thought out message that did not shy away from our society’s shortcomings while remaining optimistic that things will change for the better. He opened the session with an introspective but hopeful five minute statement.

Sam Presti’s opening statement:

“I just want to thank everybody for being with us today. Obviously this is the first opportunity that I’ve had to address the issues stemming from the systemic racism that has been at play in our country over hundreds and hundreds of years, and obviously with the murder of George Floyd recently, everybody has had an opportunity to voice their feelings on this. And I think it’s appropriate for me to do that today. I’ve thought a lot about how I’ve wanted to use my words and the way I feel. Obviously it’s an extraordinarily sad moment for our country and for I think a lot of us as individuals to realize that there’s so much more opportunity for us to do more than we’ve been willing to.

I don’t really have the words. I don’t have them.  But I don’t think that’s a bad thing, either. In these situations, because I think we need more now than words are actions. And the steps that we often take in these situations often revert to short term solutions to what is really a problem that’s plagued this country for centuries.

The steps that we often take are steps to soothe, when in fact what we’re doing is failing to heal. And I think that’s something we as a nation really need to let sink in.

Of course we have to listen. But the goal of listening is not to soothe the listener, it’s to equip the listener to act and to lift those up that are doing the speaking, in this case our black community that is voicing the real issues of social mobility, police brutality, socio-economic disparity. These things are part of the fabric of our country, and I think that we also have to take heart that it’s also part of our responsibility to work to affect them in positive fashion.

I don’t think it’s bad for us to sit with this and be ashamed by it. I don’t think it’s bad at all. I think it’s actually probably helpful because what it can do to inspire us to take a different path than maybe we’ve taken in the past and really work for long ranging plans that can impact in a positive way to be scaled beyond a month or a conversation or a session.

A lot is said about conversations and those conversations are extraordinarily important. But I think the most important conversation that all of us, myself included, need to have is a conversation with an audience of one. That audience being yourself.

Where do you stand on the issue of race and equality in the United States? It’s not enough for all of us to believe in equality, it’s what we’re willing to do to sacrifice, to battle the racism that threatens that equality. As we say, all change is local, and I really do believe that. And in this case that starts in all of our homes, how we raise our children, and how we treat one another.

Our kids don’t come into the world with this mentality. It’s a learned trait, and as we teach our children, all of us, the importance of equality and the importance of justice. We also now have to take to heart, we need to teach them not only that it’s okay, not that it’s okay, that you should be focused on these things, but you should be also fighting and equipping them with the tools to beat back racism when they confront it, hear it or see it, and those are two really totally separate issues.

As an organization, we’ve done our work on this. But we haven’t done enough. And I don’t know that you can ever do enough in this area. As I said earlier, the short term solutions or the half measures, those are not getting the outcomes and results that we need to have. So it’s my hope and belief that a year from now that we’ll be sitting here and being able to recount for you the steps that have been taken, the actions that have been taken, the change that we have tried to effect and hopefully have effected, and the fact that it’s scalable change, and not a response. Which I think we sometimes find ourselves kind of cuddled up to all across the country.

Really what I’m trying to say is when the protests dissipate and slow, and the anger turns to sadness and sorrow, that is when the work of an organization like the Thunder or any organization should be building to its crescendo. That’s when we should be doing our best so we can make this meaningful and not just short term.

Meaningful change doesn’t come from listening alone. It comes from lessons learned from that listening, and what do you do with that to pull other people up? To recognize the bias in yourself and to throw yourself into the action and the sacrifice that’s necessary to affect the future.

This really should be something that is pulling our country together, and in reality we know that there are people that want to tear it apart. But I have a lot of hope that as an organization we are going to be able to take more long term steps in this area. We have to be thoughtful about it, but I would ask everyone to hold us accountable in this area and to what I’m saying, because I believe we’re going to be able to make scalable change moving forward.

I’d like to think and I really truly believe in my heart that the Thunder is all about bringing people together, and it’s about lifting people up, and those words are hollow obviously until the actions consistently back that up. And we’re prepared to do that.

It’s obviously an extraordinarily sad time for us as a country, but we have to think longer, harder, and be willing to go further than we have in the past, all of us. But it starts with a conversation with one and builds on from there.”

On Andre Roberson playing this season:

“The time has really helped Dre. We haven’t got to see him in real basketball yet. We’re in a better place than we were on March 11 for sure. But we won’t know until we get into team practice–but we’re hopeful.”

On Lu Dort’s contract:

“We are still awaiting clarity on that. Clearly that’s something we’re focused on. We have plenty of time before we head to Orlando. He’s clearly someone we want to have going forward. That’s my expectation moving forward.”

On the excitement of the NBA’s return:

“It’s awesome we can do this, and it’s helpful, but it’s important these other issues don’t get ignored. I’m excited about the opportunity, but there’s a lot of other work to do in these other areas. We can’t lose sight of that.”

One other note: I asked Sam if the team’s success this season surprised even him. He told me that he wouldn’t want to label or qualify the team right now because the season is still in play. And he’s right. But I gotta say, no matter what happens in the playoffs, given expectations coming into this season, even if Presti is too humble to say it himself: this season has already been a resounding success.

Oh, and the most important thing to note? Sam Presti shaved his beard. So it is officially business time.