Is the Thunder ready for bubble life?

NBA teams head to Orlando for season restart

By Michael Kinney

After weeks of talking and debating on how and when to restart the NBA season, the time has finally come. The Oklahoma City Thunder was one of the 22 teams that left this for Orlando, Fl. where they will be at the Disney World Campus for the next couple of months.

Every player who decided to be part of the restart will be in the Disney bubble until their team is eliminated from the playoffs. This is to limit the possibility of the spread of COVID-19.

Oklahoma City Thunder Forward Danilo Gallinari said that isolation from the outside world makes it easier to just focus on basketball.

“The good thing is we’re not going to have a lot of distractions,” Gallinari said. “It’s really going to be only be about basketball and getting ready for practicing and playing so many games that everybody, after a little bit, is going to adjust and it’s going to be second nature.”

The NBA is doing what it can to make players as comfortable to being in the bubble as possible. They are providing movie screenings, DJ sets and new video games, barbers, manicurists, pedicurists and a 24-hour VIP concierge service.

However, Gallinari also knows to be in the bubble will be unlike anything he has done before.

“It’s going to be different, something new,” Gallinari said. “I think I will have a better idea once I get there, after a couple of weeks of living in Orlando, Disney World. I have no idea now.”

According to recent reports, it will cost the NBA more than $150 million to operate the restart bubble at three different campuses at the Disney World Resort in Orlando. That includes providing for include meals, entertainment and testing for COVID-19.

The 22 competing teams will play games without fans in attendance on three courts at the sports complex. So most of the money generated from the restart will come from television and advertisement.

In total, the NBA is projected to lose more than $1 billion in total revenue since the league was shut down March 11. That doesn’t include the financial hit individual teams, such as the Thunder are taking with loss of ticket sales, concessions, etc.

However, if the league had not decided to restart the league in some capacity, they were expecting to lose more than $2 billion.

“It comes into play that we feel an obligation to our sport and to the industry to find a new normal,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “It doesn’t come into play in terms of dollars and cents because frankly, it’s not all that economical for us to play on this campus. It’s enormously expensive.”

For the past couple of weeks, the Thunder have been engaged in mandatory individual workouts for all players who planned to be in Orlando for the restart of the season. According to coach Billy Donovan, the players will not meet all together as a team until they leave for the Disney campus.

“It’s not too much hanging around in facility or nothing like that it’s just getting in, get your work in and get out,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said.

Donovan has been impressed with what he has seen so far in how the players have come back and looked to work hard.

“Our guys have been great,” Donovan said. “Guys were in working out. They’ve been really great about wanting to play. I think all these players are very, very competitive and they love playing the game of basketball, and the opportunity to get back on the court is something I think is important to all of them.”

For young players like Gilgeous-Alexander, he has been chomping at the bit to get back on the court. Having to sit out the past four months has not been easy.

“I just wanted to get back, see the guys a little bit, hoop more and just control what I can control,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I’m a hooper. I love to hoop… I just knew I wanted to play basketball, as soon as possible.”

The teams in Orlando will scrimmage for two weeks before the season tips off July 30. Oklahoma City’s first scrimmage is July 24 against Boston. They do not play again until July 26 when they take on Philadelphia. Their final tune-up will be July 28 against Portland.

They will then play eight games in 15 days before the playoffs begin.

“People can just show up and play, but together as a team and execution of the right timing and plays and coverages and stuff, that a whole different story,” Thunder center Steven Adams said. “It’s not really to do with conditioning and stuff like that, it’s more to do with, again your team chemistry and how well you flow together as a team.”

The NBA has allowed players on the 22 teams to opt-out of the season if they are not comfortable being in the bubble for whatever reason. Those who have made that decision include former Thunder Victor Oladipo, DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza and Avery Bradley.

 Every player who was on Oklahoma City’s roster made the decision to head to Orlando for the restart. That includes the 32-year Gallinari, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He could be in store for another big contract and could have decided to sit out and not risk injury.

However, Gallinari said there were bigger issues at stake.

“(Opting-out) was not in my mind or my agent’s mind,” Gallinari said. “The main reason is because we are fighting for something, and I think that what we are fighting for and what we play for is more important than the free agency that I’m going to approach. We are trying to win something and to go far. To do it with my teammates especially, to not waste all the things we have done since September and all the work that we put in, I don’t want to see it go to waste. I never thought about not playing for my free agency.”

Story & Photo by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media

Sooner’s coach says football in the spring is ‘very doable’

By Michael Kinney

With the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 college football season, coaches and administrators have been considering other options just in case.

One of the ideas that has been floated by the Ivy League is moving the upcoming football season ito the spring.

While many have panned the idea, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley gave it credence Friday during a virtual press conference with reporters.

“I think the people who say it’s not an option, in my opinion, just don’t want to think about it,” Riley said. “I just think it would be wrong of us to take any potential option off the table right now. I think it’d be very difficult to say the spring is not a potential option. I, for one, think it’s very doable.”

The plan could include a shortened schedule that would eliminate many of the long distance travel contests.

“It’d probably be a conference season and postseason only,” Riley said. “We’ve seen often teams go in and play well into January in the College Football Playoff and start spring practice at some point in February, and nobody says a word about that. You’d have to give players plenty of time off to get their bodies back in the summer. Maybe a little later start back the next fall.”

One of the reasons other options are being considered is due to the COVID-19 testing taking place during the summer voluntary workouts. In June teams such as Clemson and LSU made headlines with more than 30 athletes from each program testing positive for the disease. Others such as Boise State, Arizona, Kansas State and Houston had to pause workouts due to multiple positive tests.

On the same day Riley talked about playing football in the spring, another fellow Big 12 Conference member had to suspend activities due to COVID-19.

Out of 164 athletes tested at the University of Kansas, 16 came back with positive results. That includes 12 from the football team.

“When we welcomed our young men back to campus a couple of weeks ago for voluntary workouts, even with the policies and procedures in place to try and protect them from becoming infected with the virus, events outside of our control has made the decision to pause these workouts necessary,” Kansas coach Les Miles stated. “Our trainers and doctors will remain in daily contact with each of the student-athletes that tested positive to support them and what we hope will involve only minor symptoms if any. We will follow medical recommendations on returning to activities.”

Oklahoma didn’t allow student-athletes back on campus for voluntary workouts until July 1. In their first round of testing, they came back with seven football players who tested positive for COVID-19. That pushed their total positive numbers to 14 athletes (two recoveries) and two staff members.

“We’re kind of a microcosm of the whole country right now,” Riley said. “We certainly weren’t expecting zero. I don’t know if comfort is the right word, but I feel good about our plan.”

Even though Riley is still confident in the plan OU has put in place to control the spread of COVID-19, he knows it comes down to personal decisions.

“I don’t know that control is the right word,” Riley said. “To think that you can control is probably a little far-fetched, maybe a little arrogant. Our deal is trying to educate and trying to make sure that they understand repercussions for their actions and understanding that the definition of that has changed. Everything you do, you have to first think about, ‘Am I exposing myself? My family members? My teammates?’ which can potentially jeopardize all this.”

Yet, in saying all that, Riley still believes the 2020 season can still be played as scheduled. That includes the season opener Sept. 5 and the trip to New York to face Army Sept. 12.

“I hope like hell we can play in the fall and do it as close as how we’ve always done it before. If we can do that, I’m all for it, if that’s the best option,” Riley said. “But we’ve seen, at least right now, that the hot weather doesn’t affect this [virus] very much, which we kind of hoped it would.”

The Sooners announced Wednesday they have implemented budget cuts of approximately $13.7 million in controllable operating expenses. That includes a 10 percent salary reduction for any employee earning at least $1 million a year. 

That includes Riley and five other members of the OU football staff.

According to OU Athletic Director, Joe Castiglione, these cuts represent the department’s first steps in responding to the impact of COVID-19.

“All of us understand that a number of circumstances will unfold in the weeks ahead,” Castiglione said.  “Our staff continues to monitor our expense and income projections closely and we’ll take other actions, as necessary. It’s a testament to our staff and our practices that we were able to balance our budget for fiscal year 2020. We have always benefited from excellent teamwork in our department, but our staff has come together as never before. I am very proud of our people.”

Riley’s contract pays him $6 million a year. He says the 10 percent reduction was the right move to make.

“Joe stopped by the house and told me what he was thinking. It took me about two and a half seconds and I said, “I’m good with it” and that was it. We’re all having to adjust … we’ve all got to do our part and it’s changed things for all of us,” Riley said. “So, I didn’t see any reason why I should be any different. I mean, you can talk about all the money that this football program brings in, but you cannot put a dollar amount on the amount of exposure, the advertising, the branding work that (football) does for this University, for Norman and for the state. It’d be impossible. It wasn’t a hard decision for me. When Joe asked me, it didn’t feel like a big deal.”

Story by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media

Massive fraud scheme hits Oklahoma school district

By Michael Kinney

Kevin Hime, the newly hired superintendent of Lawton Public Schools, arrived in December and hasn’t really had time to get to know his new surroundings due to the COVID-19 shutdowns.

He spent the previous nine years as the superintendent of the Clinton School District. But it was still a shock to Hime when he got a call one day from the payroll manager in Clinton. What was even more surprising was the reason she was contacting him. Hime had been the victim of identity theft and it was being used for unemployment insurance fraud.

“They filed on Clinton schools, which was my previous district,” he said. “They actually used an address I had 30 years ago. It had my name a little wrong, but they did have that old address and my Social Security number.”

Hime was just one of more than 900 (and counting) Lawton Public School employees who had their identity stolen for the mass insurance fraud scheme. That included Dana Moore, the principal at Edison Elementary.

“I received a call from our district Human Resources department notifying me that my personal information was being used to apply for unemployment benefits.  She said that I would probably be receiving a letter from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission next,” Moore said. “However, there were many who were not receiving the letters because the personal information being used might be for old addresses and even using maiden names.”

Hime, Moore and the rest of the LPS victims were ensnared in an international fraud case, according to LPS Chief Operating Officer Dr. Jason James. Yet that is just the tip of the iceberg of those impacted,

“What’s important for our employees to know is that it was a national credit bureau data breach, so I don’t want people to think that it was Lawton schools,” James said. “Lawton didn’t get hacked. A national credit bureau got hacked,” and Oklahoma is one of six states that have been targeted by fraudsters.

“It’s just a perfect storm of circumstances,” James said. “Teachers, principals and employees of school districts all over the state have discovered they have had their identities stolen.” According to reports, several thousand school employees have been affected.

“Almost all schools in Oklahoma are members of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) and they’re telling us that there are six states in the nation that will pay the first week of unemployment claims on the spot, and then do the verification afterward,” James said. “And Oklahoma is one of those six states. And what’s happening is, they’re trying to get that first week’s unemployment check.”

Moore says she has more questions than answers at this point.

“Why are there so many people in our district? who have been victims of fraudulent unemployment claims?  Where did they get this information?  As I spoke with other LPS employees and we shared our stories in posts on social media, it seemed like many state employees had been the victims of this crime,” said Moore. “We were told by district HR that it was not a local breach. So, was it a state breach? “Something that also came into question was how teachers across the state were mailed recruiting information from Epic Charter Schools last year.  How did they get our information with home mailing addresses?  Several of us wondered if this information was gathered the same way that the info for filing unemployment was gathered. What worries me most is how easily someone has got hold of personal information for so many people.  I thought I did everything to protect my accounts and it still happened to me.  It is just scary to think what else they could do.”

According to James, the entire saga dates from more than three years ago with the Equifax data breach. The consumer credit reporting agency, which collects data such as birth year, credit card numbers and Social Security numbers, was hacked and individual credit information was stolen. The criminal act allegedly was masterminded by a well-organized Nigerian crime ring.

“I’m being told they believe it was an Equifax data breach in 2016 or 2017. The last information I got was, they thought it was a North African cyber-criminal syndicate that then packaged all that information and sold it,” James said. “And then the people who are using it are just taking advantage of the COVID plus the drop in energy prices. Plus knowing the fact that all the schools are out. So all they’re trying to do is get any small percentage of direct deposits they can, get to a bank account that they can grab hold of, that’s what they’re doing.”

After the breach, Equifax sent a letter to those who had their information hacked, informing them that Equifax would monitor their credit for the next three years. That three-year credit watch just happened to end at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic struck the country, which made it easier for the crime ring to go after the unemployment funds.

“That three years is up, and it’s just a sweet spot of crime of opportunity,” James said. “It doesn’t cost the school district anything, it doesn’t cost our employees. it’s just a drain on state resources; it’s a drain on taxpayers. Because you know, taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill, but not individually, and not the school district.”

James said none of the LPS employees will have to pay anything out-of-pocket. “Our employees aren’t going to be on the hook,” James said. “They don’t have to pay anything back. They don’t have to worry about any tax implications in the future. They don’t have to worry about anything on their credit. We’re just doing our due diligence and letting them know that there’s this fraudulent claim against them, and they need to pay attention to their credit. So phase two of whatever, that takes place, they just need to be paying attention to it.”

However, the anxiety that affects people when they find out what is going on doesn’t easily go away.

“How does this happen?  I have seen lots of stories about people applying for unemployment benefits who are having trouble getting approved yet someone can just use my info from who knows where to apply and get through the system quickly,” Moore said. “I was scared.  I don’t make a whole lot of money and I want to keep what I do make safe.”

Hime has similar concerns this situation could have an adverse effect long term.

“Initially I was like, ‘what am I going to have to do to fix this?’ Because you’re really concerned. Obviously you don’t want people having your personal information,” Hime said. “It really worries you. Online data, and we all use a certain amount of credit cards and such now. And just how do you fix it and make sure that it doesn’t cause you other problems? Luckily I had already purchased my house here, but you always hear these stories about how it messes up people’s credit and things like that.”

Lawton Public Schools were able to limit the damage done because they have a staff that works during the summer. James said many school districts were not so lucky. “Lawton, which has got a full-time staff during the summer, we do a really good job of notifying the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission there’s a fraudulent case and those people aren’t eligible, so that gets shut down,” James said. “But some of these small rural schools that might not have a complete staff during the summer, there’s no telling how many weeks go through before they get caught.”

Hime was given some tips by the OSSBA to make sure things like this don’t blow up on him in the future. “They just told me to watch my credit report, watch my credit cards and watch my bank accounts and different things,” he said.

“And you can always use one of the visual free services out there to monitor your credit for you. Just kind of observe and make sure nothing else pops up. Because like I said, if you get one or two, where somebody files on you a couple of times, you’ve got to start considering there’s a whole lot of things you got to go through and contact. It could get to be a tedious, long problem to get through with it.”

Story By Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media

School district’s COVID-19 response put to the test

By Michael Kinney

Gary Dees knew at some point it was going to happen. The Director of Athletics for Lawton Public School knew keeping the coronavirus pandemic out of the hallways and practice fields completely were going to be an impossible task.

Yet, Dees wanted to make sure the system was ready for the day it had to deal with a positive case.

That day came sooner than they probably expected when a student-athlete at Eisenhower High tested positive for COVID-19.

The student-athlete was taking part in offseason practices Thursday along with several other students.

“I got a phone call late on Thursday afternoon of last week. It was the coach. They had practiced that morning and they did all the protocols that we had set forth: checking temperatures, hand washing, hand sanitize and bringing their own towels, bringing their own water bottles,” Dees said. “The coaches would always check and make sure that any student that wasn’t feeling good, they were advised to send them home. But the kid had no symptoms and no temperature at the time of the workout. Later on that day after the practice, he developed a temperature and started feeling bad. And so the parents took him to the wellness center and they did a test. Of course, it comes back positive, and I was told the next day.”

Dees would not release the name of the student or the sport he played. But he said all protocols were followed before and after they were notified of the positive test.

“I worked with Lynn Cordes who’s the media person at Shoemaker,” Dees said. “Worked with her, kind of worked with the Health Department just making sure that we did everything that we needed to do. And as a result of that, what we’ve done is we have halted athletics at Eisenhower for two weeks to just make sure that we’re doing everything we can do to prevent the spread of COVID.”

Because the knew it was a possibility a student-athlete would become infected by the disease, Dees said they had a plan in place for just such a contingency.

“The plan involved, how do we prevent it in the first stage? But we knew that if there was a positive test that since it’s the summer, we would quarantine the team, anybody that was in contact with the student,” Dees said. “In this case immediately we quarantined the sport. And then later on we decided it would be best to quarantine the whole sporting department.”

According to Dees, all practices and workouts at Eisenhower have been stopped. But the school district did not tell parents to keep their kids quarantined at home and away from others.

“I’m not telling them that they can’t be out in public. I’m just saying we’re not going to meet as groups,” Dees said. “And it’s suggested, it’s recommended that they not do that. But what we’re saying is, is we’re not going to meet as a team. We’re not going to be at our facilities, and the coaches are not going to meet with them either.”

LPS used social media Saturday morning to notify the public of the positive COVID-19 test. The announcement stated , “the Health Department is in the process of contacting anyone in the next 24 hours that needs to be notified. If you are contacted by the Health Department, please follow their recommendations. The District continues to follow the guidance and procedures set forth by the National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS) for summer athletics. Personal health procedures and disinfecting measures continue to be in place. Additionally, deep cleaning will occur over the weekend. Furthermore, we are in constant communication and in full cooperation with CCHD as we follow their guidance.”

According to Dees, the school district also informed all parents of student-athletes who had been at the training sessions.

“That was a part of coach Eric Gibson. He called each parent and made them aware,” Dees said. “It was sent out over social media. Interviews were done through the newspaper and TV.”

However, several parents have said they did not hear from anyone from the school or school district.

Dees said the procedures the district had in place worked out the way it had been planned.

“I think the plan that we had in place was a great plan and we executed well,” Dees said. “It was myself, and the coach, and the principal, and administration from Shoemaker. And we all jumped on it that night and attacked it and worked into the late hours. And then the next morning we started again and worked on it that morning. We kind of knew that this had the potential to happen, but what it made us realize is, is when we go back to school, that this is definitely a learning situation for that time.”

Despite that, Dees does have concerns about what will happen once school is let back in and fall sports are off and running. He is not completely confident that COVID-19 will not interrupt the seasons.

“I would say there’s a chance that the sports could be affected by COVID, definitely,” Dees said. “This is kind of a day-by-day situation. The virus doesn’t seem like it’s going away. So I would think that there’s a good chance that it could affect our fall sports. We’re waiting for guidance from the OSSAA on how we’re going to proceed. And so it’s kind of an everyday thing and we’re learning new things every day. And what has happened today could change within the next 30 days. But I am concerned about having fall sports.”

Story By Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media

Broiles has a message for millennials: Keep fighting

By Michael Kinney

There has probably been no other age group maligned as much as millennials. Throughout the past few years, the entire age bracket has been labeled lazy and apathetic and act as if the world owes them something.

However, during the past month, millennials have had their critics singing a different tune. They are the ones spearheading the social justice protests and calls for change in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

One of those millennials who has been front and center is Justin Broiles, a defensive back on the University of Oklahoma football team.

The redshirt junior could have kept his head down and just prepared for what he hopes is a breakout 2020 season with the Sooners. However, the Oklahoma native has been an active participant in the calls for racial and social justice from the very start. Whether it has been in Norman or Oklahoma City, he has taken part in numerous rallies, marches and events that are demanding the end to systematic racism and police brutality.

“I’m just out here doing my part, using my platform and encourage, motivate, and inspire others to make a change in and take part in change,” Broiles said.

Broiles was in Oklahoma City Saturday at a Black Lives Matter rally. He and the small group marched from the downtown headquarters of the Oklahoma City Police Department to Scissortail Park.

Broiles not only took part in the one-mile walk, but the African and African-American studies major spoke to the crowd of spectators about why they all were there.

“We know the problem’s here, but now it’s time to find a solution,” Broiles said. “So it’s time to stop putting energy on the problem, and it’s time to start putting energy on the solution. So I’ve just been focused on how can we change? What’s the next step?”

For Broiles, that next step making the system and those who make the rules more diverse.

“We’ve got to get more people of color into the judicial system, and that’s just how I see it,” Broiles said. “I feel like the system has been in place for 400 years. We have to put people in there that look like us and not even just make the system ours, but that can vouch for the minority, or that can vouch and say how this bill or this law would affect this group of people more than it would another group. So, we need that kind of just balance in the system.”

Broiles believes that the answer to the issues and problems taking place around the country can come from millennials. He wants his presence at events like the Black Lives Matter rally to help inspire others in the age group to step up, seize the moment and not be afraid.

“I got a message to the millennials and that’s just, now it’s on us, now it’s our turn,” Broiles said. “We can’t pin this on nobody else. Now it’s on us to make the change happen that we want to see happen. This is living in history right now. So, it’s on us to make that change for our young ones, and our nephews to know that you can be whatever you want to be.”

According to Broiles, millennials have shown they can be more than what has been expected of them.  

“You can run for president. You can be a governor. You can be a lawyer. You can be a doctor, football player, whatever you want to be,” Broiles said. “And it’s our job to make sure that we fight this fight the correct way in order for the young ones to know and understand that it is possible to do whatever you put your mind to.”

Story & Photos by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media

OU goes all in with new masking policy

By Michael Kinney

With college campuses less than two months away from opening back up to students, officials around the country have begun announcing new policies in regards to battling the spread of COVID-19.

One of the latest is the University of Oklahoma. It announced it new mask policy Thursday and it calls for all students to wear masks while on campus.

“All individuals in indoor University facilities must wear fabric or disposable surgical-style masks that cover their nose and mouth. Bandanas and scarves are not acceptable. Masks must be worn by all passengers in University-provided transportation, such as campus shuttles, buses, police safety escorts, and motor pool/leased vehicles,” the OU policy states. “Drivers must wear a mask when passengers are in the vehicle. Individuals may remove masks only if they are in their own enclosed private workspace with no one else present or in their dorm room.”

While the measures may seem drastic to some, OU’s chief COVID officer, Dr. Dale Bratzler, it is necessary at this time.

“We know that masks are one of the most effective interventions to prevent the person to person transmission of this particular virus,”  Bratzler told KFOR. “In studies, it’s shown to be up to 85 percent effective.”

According to officials, the new policy is mandatory for each OU campus for all students, employees, patients and visitors. 

“Students may remove masks when inside University facilities only when alone in an enclosed room,” the policy stated, “and while participating in activities in which a face mask cannot practically be worn, such as eating and drinking or playing a musical instrument or singing as part of an academic assignment. Students are not required to wear masks in their dorm rooms, but they are strongly encouraged to do so, particularly when others are present, unless they are participating in activities in which a face mask cannot practically be worn, such as eating and drinking, bathing, or sleeping.”

Oklahoma says it will make masks available to students. They may also provide their own masks that comply with this policy.

The university will make masks available to employees appropriate to their on-campus responsibilities. Masks used for daily wear are expected to last five days.

Oklahoma is still in the process of determining what its masking policy will be for athletics when it comes to fans.

The policy stated masking requirements for special events and athletic sporting events will be determined by the Chief COVID Officer and University administration before the date of the event and will be based on factors including location and size of the event, current COVID-19 data, and advice of public health and medical experts.

“That’s still under consideration. As we’ve talked about before, the risk of transmitting the virus is reduced in an outdoor setting compared to indoors,” Bratzler said. “However as you know, any time you get a large number of people together, particularly in a close setting, you can increase the risk of transmission of the virus.”

Student-athletes can voluntarily start returning to campus on July 1. Students will start moving into their dorms in early August.

In-person classes at the University of Oklahoma are set to begin August 24.

Story & Photos by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media

African American gun rights group sees growing interest

By Michael Kinney

For Timothy Blackwell, the Second Amendment has always been something he has been interested in. Even as a kid growing up in Oklahoma, he knew it was important, even if he couldn’t put it into words.

“As long as I can remember I have been fond of people understanding their Second Amendment rights,” Blackwell said. “Being from Oklahoma, gun ownership is nothing new. And you see it, at one point when I was a teenager, I used to see some of the guys in high school would have it in the back of their pickup trucks. Nobody would mess with it all day long.”

More than three decades later, Blackwell has the same intense interest in gun rights, especially for African Americans. That led him to start up the Lawton chapter of the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA).

“What I’ve always noticed is that African Americans in general, because of the violence that is fairly pervasive in some of our inner-city communities, we have shied away from gun ownership, firearms in general,” Blackwell said. “But I’ve also noticed that everybody has the same Second Amendment rights, but it seems to be one-sided. And so, you have to fix that because African Americans have a rich, rich history of gun ownership, responsible gun ownership. I wanted to make sure that, in the community that I am in, that we emphasize that. That we have an organization where people who are interested in owning a firearm can do so in an environment that promotes safety, that promotes education about their rights, that promotes proficiency.”

Blackwell started up the Lawton chapter of the NAAGA three weeks ago. Since then he has seen interest start to pick up.

“I have six in the pipeline for full-blown membership,” Blackwell said. “I have at least eight more that I am waiting for them to go to the national  organization and they have to be paid members before they can be an official member of a local chapter. So, they go to the national site, pay their [annual] membership dues, and then I’ll officially be able to bring them in.”

Blackwell joined the NAAGA national organization more than a year ago. He said he was looking for a group he could be part of that had the same mindset on gun rights as he has.

“I had been holding off on the NRA because I just felt that the direction the NRA was going was not advantageous to the African American community in my own personal belief,” Blackwell said. “And I felt that the NRA had gotten too political and too one-sided, and was more focused on defending itself and defending people than on defending the Second Amendment for everyone and being inclusive. So, when I heard about this organization, I was like, “Wow, this is awesome.”

The NAAGA has more than 30,000 total members. Just over 60 percent of them are women.

“In my chapter focus, one of the six things that I talk about is the increase in the number of African American females [who] are trained, educated, and proficient with the different types of firearms,” Blackwell said. “This is been growing for a while. African American females have been very interested in owning firearms because as we know, in many cases, they have been the targets of abductions, sexual assault and various things, and there has been a movement to protect themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

There are 75 total chapters of the NAAGA spread out across the nation. That includes four in Oklahoma alone. They are comprised of Spencer, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and now Lawton.

Blackwell believed Lawton was a perfect spot to build a chapter. “Because there are a lot of retired military here,” said Blackwell, who spent 27 years in the Armed Forces. “There are a lot of African Americans [who] own guns, but they just don’t network. And then they’re not seen in the community. So, I wanted to establish that here. I got permission from the national organization to form a chapter here in Lawton, and it’s slowly starting to gain interest. And slowly started to build up a little bit and we’re getting there.”

There is a growing interest from African Americans across the state and country in their Second Amendment rights. Some of it has stemmed from recent events involving unarmed black men being shot and killed by law enforcement officers. That includes George Floyd in Minnesota and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.

These incidents led Ardmore native Omar Chatman to organize the “1,000 Black Men and Women in arms Second Amendment” walk Saturday in Oklahoma City to bring attention to the fact that black Americans’ constitutional rights to carry firearms are not respected. 

“Because they have the right, they have the right to bear arms,” Chatman said. “They have the right to protect themselves. So many African Americans, especially in the state of Oklahoma are very complacent, and they’re scared. Most African Americans live with some kind of heightened sense of anxiety dealing with police. A police officer just rolls behind you, immediately the anxiety shoots through the roof.”

Carrying his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Chatman led a group of around gun owners and Second Amendments proponents on a march from the Ralph Ellison memorial Library to the Governor’s Mansion. More than half of those who took part were armed with handguns, rifles and an assortment of other firearms.

Because Oklahoma is an open carry state, citizens age 21 or older can carry a firearm in public without a permit.

The group consisted of not just black men and women, but also a sizeable group of white men and women. According to Chatman, the sight of the armed and racially mixed group marching together sends a message.

“It’s important to know that people are not weak and limited. When you see people just marching and they have nothing on them, like Martin Luther King did, people assume that they can brutalize them whenever they want to,” Chatman said. “But when the Black Panthers marched alongside the protesters, they were never brutalized. And if you look at the protest, even today, the police are not shooting rubber bullets at them. They are not tear gassing those people who have armed people with them while they’re going out. So today that message is we the people will push back if you push up against us. This is a peaceful movement, but don’t go pushing us too far.”

When the marchers arrived at the Governor’s mansion, they wanted to deliver a list of demands to Gov. Kevin Stitt. But since he was at President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, co-organizer Michael Washington, read off the demands before leaving it on the locked gate.

Protester stops in front of the locked gates at the Governor’s Mansion.

The demands included for the Oklahoma State Legislature to enact laws that would hold officers accountable when they are found to have violated human rights and for officers to be required to carry personal liability insurance.

One thing they were not asking for was to defund the police, which has gained momentum in other parts of the state and country.

“I don’t believe in completely defunding the police. I don’t believe in getting rid of the police,” Chatman said. “We need law enforcement, but we need law enforcement that is responsible.”

Washington, a longtime community activist, said the biggest message they wanted to send was not to Stitt or law enforcement; it was aimed at other African Americans in the state.

“What we’re trying to do is organize a peaceful, humble protest and to show African Americans that they too can carry their weapons in a respectful in a humble manner,” Washington said. “And that a lot of them don’t know that they can’t do that. So today we just want to make a statement and let them know that if you have a weapon, please carry it. You have a right to do that. We’re just trying to educate the black population to know that you have a right to defend yourself when something comes up wrong.”

Getting African Americans to understand that the Second Amendment rights apply to them just as much as anyone else is one of the main reasons Blackwell wanted to start the Lawton chapter. He says over the years, it has been lost.

“I think they’ve forgotten about it. As a people, we have pacified ourselves to a point to where it is almost as if it is not good to speak about firearms and ownership of firearms. That is not good at all,” Blackwell said. “We have basically forgotten about it. You had Ida B. Wells. You had Frederick Douglas. You had very prominent people in African American culture who were gun owners and were proud gun owners.”

Blackwell says that the need for self-defense has been the No. 1 factor for the growth in organizations like the NAAGA.

“It’s the reason why I wanted to make sure that we got this chapter here in Lawton because one of the things that we would promote is the ability to provide self-defense for oneself and their family. You need an understanding of the state laws that govern your ability to provide self-defense,” Blackwell said. “It has to do with understanding that the law is there, and it covers you, too. You have to embrace your legal rights. You have to embrace your Second Amendment rights, especially here in Oklahoma. Some people are fairly spread out and it may take a little while for the legal authorities to get to your place of residence. You have to have a means to protect yourself, and the Second Amendment gives you that right to have firearms to protect yourself.”

Story & Photos by Michael Kinney/Michael

Lexus LC 500 Coupe is a Show Stealer

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Walking through the front doors of the Bennett Event Center at the Oklahoma State Fair Park in Oklahoma City, there it stood. The first thing car fans saw as they entered the 103rd Oklahoma City International Auto Show was the 2020 Lexus LC 500 Coupe.

Situated next to a non-descript Lexus sign, the luxurious machine didn’t need much hype to bring attention to it. For many who came to the auto show, it was almost impossible not to notice the LC 500 Coupe, despite hundreds of other automobiles filling the State Fair Arena. Throughout the three-day run of the show, the Coupe constantly drew crowds and onlookers.

Decked out in deep black paint, with only the slightest hints if a silver trim, the LC 500 gave off a daring and sexy vibe to onlookers, who instinctively felt a need to put their hands on the exterior.

It included shiny 20 inch, 10 spoke cast allow rims and run-flat tires.

The Lexus LC 500 Coupe at the Oklahoma City International Auto Show.
Photos by Michael Kinney

Unlike some of the other high-profile luxury car brands and their highlighted vehicles, Lexus officials encouraged people to get into the coupe and try it on for size.

What they found once they opened the doors felt like a 5-star hotel on wheels. Surrounded by suede type leather, it had the feel of complete comfort.

From the dashboard to the headrest to the steering wheels, the LC 500 was ensconced in tan suede. The heated front seats were also leather-trimmed.

It was easy to see the work Lexus put into making the smallest details pop. That includes the leather-trimmed shift knob, which takes an hour to craft, according to Lexus.

However, space is limited inside the coupe. While it may be perfect for a night out on town, lugging a family of four across the country could be uncomfortable.

It does include such features as push-button start, Bluetooth, Navigation, a blind-spot monitor and a mobile hot spot.

Under the hood stood a 5.0-liter V-8. It pumps out 471 horsepower and 398 pounds of torque. It has a 10-speed sport direct shift with magnesium paddle shifters.

The fuel economy for the Lexus LC 500 Coupe is solid for this type of ride. It gets 16 MPG in the city and 25 on the highway.

According to Kelly Walk, a longtime Lexus owner in Oklahoma City, he was able to test drive the Coupe. He and other Lexus owners were able to take the car for a spin around a track to see if it lived up to the high bar Lexus has set in the past.

“It handles amazing,” Walk said. “We got to drive it around a track. Only one lap, but it was smooth and powerful. It cornered as well as the Corvette and is as luxurious as you would expect for a Lexus. It had a great response when you punched the accelerator and turned the steering wheel. I wish I would have had a couple of more laps on the track with it.”

The sticker price for the fully loaded 2020 Lexus LC 500 Coupe is $106, 120.00. The base price is closer to $93,000.

Lexus is expected to debut the LC 500 convertible nationally this summer.

Photos by Michael Kinney

Thunder clinch playoff spot as NBA locks in return plan

By Michael Kinney

Despite being out of work for the past three months, the Oklahoma City Thunder accomplished an impressive feat last week. The franchise essentially clinched a spot in the postseason without having to lift a finger.

When the NBA Board of Governor’s and the NBA Player’s union approved the plan to resume the season, it put the Thunder in a position to where all the work they had done in the regular season was enough to guarantee them a spot in the upcoming playoffs.

“I think it’s great. It’s been a great group of guys, and our players and our coaches have done a really good job of looking at the season as a whole and not getting like too high or too low as the season had rolled around,” Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said. “Everybody has contributed. You know, and I don’t think any of us had an idea where we would be, quite frankly. We certainly didn’t expect to be in the situation that we’re in going down to Orlando. No one predicted that.”

However, the NBA’s plan to restart the season wasn’t just a snap of the fingers. It took weeks of negotiation for all sides involved to come up with a way to finish the season but also keep everyone safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The regular season will resume July 31 for 22 of the 30 teams in the league. Those 22 teams (13 in the West, 9 in the East) were within six games of being in the top eight in each conference. The other eight teams saw their season come to an end.

The qualifying squads will play eight games on their schedule on Orlando’s Walt Disney World Campus.

Of the 22 teams, 16 will make the playoffs. The order in the standings will be determined by winning percentage.

But here is where things get complicated.  A possible play-in tournament for the eighth seed in each conference would then be held if the ninth seed finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth seed.

In order to advance, the ninth seed would need to defeat the eighth seed twice, while the eighth seed would just need one win to eliminate the ninth seed. The NBA’s regular playoff format would then proceed as normal. The NBA Finals will end no later than Oct. 12.

Currently, the Thunder sit in fifth place in the West. However, they are just one game behind the Utah Jazz for fourth place and two and half behind third-place Denver.

Because the Thunder are exactly eight games ahead of the current No. 8 seed Memphis, they are locked into the postseason.

“The format is not really a concern for us. We were going to go with whatever was best for the league,” Presti said. “You know, we’ll play anywhere, so we’re perfectly happy with what the league chose to go with. I think everyone has to be. There’s no choice. The one thing about this format or this event is that it’s– everyone is dealing with the same thing, so as competitors, that should be all you ask for.”

All remaining regular season games and the playoffs will take place on the Walt Disney World Campus.

The NBA and the NBPA are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a program to decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19.

 “I think being there is I think going to be a great thing to be a part of something like that. We don’t have any idea what this is going to be like, so we’re going in with no preconceived notions other than we’re going to have to be adaptable, and we’re going to have to get comfortable with the fact that things are not going to be the way we’re used to them being,” Presti said. “Once you get past that, I think you can get into kind of really embracing that kind of like uncertainty, because as I said earlier, everyone is dealing with that.”

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