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Thunder Journal: Pause the Game

Thunder Journal: Pause the Game

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Some moments are embedded in Thunder fans’ memories for life.

Russell Westbrook’s historic game winner against the Nuggets. Loud City’s ovation of appreciation following a loss in OKC’s first ever playoff series. Nick Collison’s bloody face. Cameron Payne’s dance moves.

And March 11, 2020.

It’s the only Thunder game etched into fans’ minds by date. Because it’s the game that never was.

OKC Thunder Films will premiere Pause The Game, a documentary short chronicling the night COVID-19 brought the sports world, and consequently the world at large, to a screeching halt, on June 12th at Oklahoma City’s famous deadCenter Film Festival.

The engrossing 27-minute mini-movie plays out like a real time play by play of the decision making and thought process behind the scenes of a night that captivated a worldwide audience. In the time it takes to rewatch an episode of The Office, director Michael Zubach expertly puts viewers in the back halls of The Chesapeake Energy Arena and the minds of Sam Presti and Clay Bennett. The film’s efficient editing results in a fast, full comprehension of the tense minute by minute reactions from players, management, staff and fans, and the full weight of the decisions made by Thunder leadership.

Narration is provided by way of interviews with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Tony Bradley (a member of the Jazz at the time), Michael Cage, Chris Fisher, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, Royce Young, Thunder fans, as well as Presti, Bennett and other members of the Thunder staff and management.

But the movie’s most fascinating bits are provided by the mystery man who sprinted onto the court, grabbed the officials and told them to pause the game. Dr. Donnie Strack, the Thunder’s VP of Human and Player Performance, became the face of the night OKC became ground zero for Covid in the United States, and this is the first time he’s spoken publicly on the events.

The Thunder held a sneak preview for the OKC media three days before the official roll out, and with apologies to Thunderstruck, it’s by far the best Thunder themed film I’ve ever seen. It’s enthralling, educational, entertaining and sometimes even surprisingly funny.

Pause The Game is a passion project produced by some names most Thunder fans know well: Nick Gallo, Paris Lawson, Dan Mahoney, John Read and Matt Tumbleson. This team, along with Zubach, manages to capture not only the brains behind the infamous night, but the heart of Oklahoma City at its core.

“I think we were all dealing with a lot of unknowns. And having to make decisions in real time. And take care of 18,000 people that are scared, that are confused, and that are maybe unhappy,” Clay Bennett says at one point in the film. Given the high stakes and minimal processing time, and viewing the film with the benefit of Covid hindsight, it’s hard to imagine any team or city handling the crisis any better than OKC.

Usually, the documentary shorts produced by Thunder Films are must watch movies for OKC fans because the subject matter hits home and feels personal. And despite the subject matter being a worldwide pandemic, Pause The Game feels like the most personal Thunder film yet. But it isn’t just a must watch for every Oklahoma City Thunder fan. It’s a must watch for everyone.