By Michael Kinney
Late last week, Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti found himself in Tulsa. It is a trip he has made countless times since the NBA franchise first came to the state in 2008.
However, this trip was different. It was the first time Presti had ever visited the site of Black Wallstreet and the Tulsa Race Massacre.
The 99-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre happened to fall right in the middle of one of the biggest social justice uprisings the country has seen in some time. Presti felt it was a perfect opportunity to go and learn.
“I took the chance to drive up there the other day just to see that area and see the Greenwood District,” Presti said. “I hadn’t done that, and that was extraordinarily informative. For me, I was astounded when I was in Tulsa learning about that, and I’m going to learn more about it because I think it’s a fascinating piece of history in a lot of different ways. I just think there is more — as an organization, I do feel like we’ve put our best foot forward in the community, but we can do more, and I think we should. I think it’s healthy to say that.”
Like almost everyone else around the state, Presti has been focused on the death of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers in Minneapolis on May 25 and the protests and civil unrest that sprung from it.
When Presti held his virtual press conference with local media Sunday afternoon, he felt it was time to speak out and let the Thunder fans and community know where the organization stands.
“I’ve thought a lot about how I 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,” Presti said. “I don’t really have the words. I don’t have them. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, either, in these situations, because I think what 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.”
Presti said in the past, whenever an event like the death of Floyd would happen, people would act passionately, but without long term solutions. He said that has been a recipe for failure.
The Thunder organization does not want to get caught up in that trap again. He talked about wanting to do something more effective and long-lasting and not something to just make themselves look or feel good.
“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 that we as a nation really need to let sink in,” Presti said. “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, socioeconomic 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.”
Presti made a point to acknowledge the peaceful protests that took place in Tulsa, Lawton and Oklahoma City over the past two weeks.
I just have a lot of respect for the people that protested peacefully, which I think is a great statement,” Presti said. “I think that it’s important that people recognize the peaceful avenue that’s been taken in a lot of places because that I think has the most effect, and I support those people, anybody that uses their voice in that way.”
Presti pointed out systemic racism has been part of America for centuries and there is no quick fix to it. But he said individuals can start by recognizing it and acknowledging the effect it has had on the black community.
“I don’t think it’s bad for us to sit with this and be ashamed by it,” Presti said. “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 things in a positive way to be scaled beyond a month or a conversation or a session.”
Presti didn’t give a timetable on when he wants the Thunder to start implementing some long-term solutions to real issues that are affecting the black communities in the state.
“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,” Presti said. “That’s when we should be doing our best work so we can make this meaningful and not just short-term. 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.”
Michael Kinney is a Content Provider