BCC teams up with Google, Thunder

By Michael Kinney

The Journal Record

Eran Harrill knows a thing or two about teamwork. As a sergeant in the Oklahoma National Guard, he witnessed firsthand the importance of groups coming together for a common goal during his tour of duty in Afghanistan.

While Harrill may not be wearing fatigues and roughing it in the desert, he is still working to bring different groups together. Now he’s just doing it as the chief executive officer of the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce.

One of Harrill’s missions as CEO is to help the chamber’s members learn to keep pace in this technology-driven era.

“When I took over the Black Chamber, it was something that I immediately saw as a need that needed to happen,” Harrill said. “And so I’ve always been cognizant of that and trying to look for ways that can continue to push that mission out there and accomplish those goals.”

That is why Harrill forged partnerships with Google and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The three groups have come together to create monthly workshops for the Black Chamber of Commerce to host for its members and other small business owners looking to use Google products.

Harrill first saw the value of Google in 2017 after attending a “Grow with Google” event at the Devon Boathouse.

“That’s when I really started seeing some of the deliberate efforts they were trying to do on their portfolio and the suite of products, to be able to help small business owners and entrepreneurs really get a leg up in some of the products that they were creating,” Harrill said.

The workshops cover a variety of topics each month. When the OKC Black Chamber of Commerce met Feb. 15, the subject was “Get Your Business Online.”

For two hours, Harrill went through ways different Google products could help business owners create a bigger and more effective imprint online. That is one of the reasons Joel Pendarvis of JP Accounting & Tax Services has been attending the workshops.

“I come to a workshop like this to get different strategies for optimizing my website, giving myself a better web presence,” Pendarvis said. “Also, I am a member of the Black Chamber and I come here to support one of my fellow Black Chamber members.”

Harrill explained to the small group at the Thunder Launchpad how the web is specifically working for businesses in Oklahoma with the help of Google. In Oklahoma alone, Google helped provide $532 million of economic activity for businesses, website publishers and nonprofits in 2017.

“(Google) gets small business owners being more recognized with the brand and using their suite of products in a way that they couldn’t do, or would cost them a lot of money to be able to try to get the word out that way,” Harrill said.

For the Thunder, being partnered with the Black Chamber of Commerce and Google is a way to continue to give back to the community and also showcase the viability of its Thunder Launchpad, which provides space and resources.

“We wanted to open up this space for nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations, for educating small businesses, for educating youth, for educating veterans to better their careers,” said Karlis Kezbers, director of business intelligence and strategy for the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Then there is our partnership with Eran. We have hosted many events for the Black Chamber of Commerce, whether it’s at the arena or here at the Launchpad. We want to help support that as much as possible.”

So far in 2019, the Black Chamber of Commerce has hosted two Grow with Google events. Thirty people attended in January and 13 in February.

Harrill sees room for growth, but he knows the key continues to be getting the word out on how Google can work for people.

“We deal with a lot of entrepreneurs, people who are just starting their business. So this gives them an opportunity to improve their business presence on the web for free,” Pendarvis said. “That always helps. It doesn’t cost anything, there are no barriers for entry. It’s something you can do on your own and it also helps your business.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Thunder dismantle Kings

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — On March 7, Russell Westbrook scored a career-high 58 points for Oklahoma City. It was one of the best individual performances the NBA has seen this season.

However, the Thunder lost that game as the team stretched its skid to four games at that point.

Since then, the Thunder seemed to have turned the corner. While Westbrook is still the focal point, his teammates have found their roles and their contributions have increased.

That was the case in Oklahoma City’s 110-94 victory over Sacramento on Saturday afternoon at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“We know we have the talent to score the ball inside or outside,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “We just need to focus on the defensive end, play with an edge.”

Westbrook led all scorers with 28 points, making 9 of 20 shots from the field, and had eight rebounds and 10 assists. He was two rebounds away from his 36th triple-double of the season.

Westbrook was asked if triple-doubles ever cross his mind late in games when he’s close.

“I just play bro,” Westbrook said.

Doug McDermott came off the Thunder bench to score 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor. Steven Adams added 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Enes Kanter contributed 14 points as Oklahoma City won its fifth straight game and improved to 40-29. The Thunder are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth in the Western Conference.

Georgios Papagiannis led the Kings with 14 points and 11 boards.

“I’m in a rhythm right now. I started with 11 minutes and then started to get more, so I am just starting to get used to it because most of the time I have been playing for the D-League and when I got here the last few games it was a lot different,” Papagiannis said.

“So just every game and every practice I am trying to get used to the players because most of the time I had been in Reno and everything works right now.”

Skal Labissiere added 13 points and Buddy Hield scored 11 points as the Kings dropped to 27-42.

In the opening minutes of the game, the Kings looked like they might give the Thunder a fight. Led by Darren Collison, Sacramento opened a quick 10-9 advantage.

That was the last bit of hope the Kings had. The Thunder outscored them 20-9 the rest of the quarter to grab a double-digit lead.

The Oklahoma City bench continued to cause problems for Sacramento. Kanter wore out the lighter Willie Cauley-Stein in in the paint as he racked up 10 first-half points.

While Westbrook didn’t have to explode for big numbers, he made enough signature plays to leave an imprint on the game. That include draining a jumper in the final seconds of the first half to give Oklahoma City a 63-41 halftime lead.

Sacramento could never get its offense rolling. Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson played suffocating defense on Hield. Meanwhile, Cauley-Stein, Collison and Labissiere couldn’t buy a basket.

“It’s hard to come back on a great team like that,” Hield said. “They have been playing together for a while, Russ is always great and then add the pieces of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, who are playing really well.

“We are a young team, so we just have to keep learning from these losses and keep getting better.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

 

Musical introduces Motown to a new generation

 

By Michael Kinney

As the daughter of a musician, Amber Johnson grew up in a house full of music. Whether it was country or old-school R&B, the Norman native was raised with melodies and songs.

Despite that, after graduating from Norman High School in 1998 and attending the University of Oklahoma, Johnson found herself developing an interest in working behind the scenes of musicals instead of singing onstage.

The Motown sound made an impact on Johnson growing up. Founded in Detroit in 1958, it was described as “the soundtrack of a generation.” Johnson can attest to that, as everyone from The Temptations to The Supremes has reserved a place in her memories.

As an adult, Johnson finds herself working on Motown’s reincarnation as an assistant stage manager for Broadway’s Motown the Musical.

For me, Motown has such a great history and growing up in a household where music was very important, to be part of something that is continuing the legacy of Motown music, bringing people together with the music is important and a great thing to be part of,” Johnson said.

Motown the Musical opens March 7 at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave., and runs through March 12.

It’s based on founder Berry Gordy’s autobiography To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown and the story of how Gordy transformed a small label to the biggest hitmaking machine of the 1960s. The label featured Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, The Isley Brothers, Diana Ross, Boyz II Men, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson.

David Kaverman, who portrays Robinson, said the production hits all the right notes.

For me, it has really been life-changing. It came at the right time to spread this message of love and family and unity among people and the importance of music,” he said. “We just had a brunch at Mr. Gordy’s house. It was just really humbling and eye-opening to see the kind of history he’s had through the pictures on his wall and everything. Now, we’re part of that Motown family and all these great legends, iconic people, movement makers, inspirers. So for me, it’s one of the high points of my life so far.”

Motown soul

The current Motown the Musical tour is the second one since the show opened on Broadway in 2013. But this is Kaverman’s first run as a castmember.

He originally auditioned as an ensemble player. After several callbacks, he faced the chance of a lifetime.

They kept calling me back for more things, different things. I ended up in the final round auditioning for Smokey,” Kaverman said. “We had our opening in LA, and Smokey Robinson came and saw the show and I got to meet him. … He gave me some really nice words and was really supportive of the work I’m doing trying to capture him on stage.”

In researching his character, Kaverman said he learned about the importance of Motown and that Robinson was more than a performer.

Smokey was really kind of the heart and soul of Motown,” Kaverman said. “He was a prolific songwriter. Wrote a lot of music for Motown, for other groups, which I really didn’t know before. He was also a leader. He rose to be vice president of the company, so he understood the business side as well as the creative side. In the show, we have a couple of tense scenes in which Smokey is taking charge.”

Along with Kaverman, Motown the Musical stars Chester Gregory as Gordy, Allison Semmes as Ross and Jarran Muse as Gaye. CJ Wright and Raymond Davis Jr. portray Jackson and Wonder as young boys.

While the behind-the-scenes stories on the uphill battles Motown endured shape the show, the music gives it its soul. Motown the Musical features more than 40 hit songs, including “My Girl,” “What’s Going On,” “Dancing in the Street,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Kaverman described a part in the show in which Diana Ross asks everyone in the auditorium to hold hands as they all sing together. He said he feels the energy coming from the room. He wants as many people as possible to feel that same energy.

I would say come to the show because the music is fantastic,” Kaverman said. “And there are such good stories. There is something there to latch onto that is real. It’s touching and inspiring. I think people go to theaters to have a good time, but also to feel things. But I think people will be surprised with how much heart this show has.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

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New Thunder fit perfectly in first game

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Alex Abrines knew there was a chance he’d get his first start of the season for Oklahoma City. With Victor Oladipo ailing, Abrines was the next man up.
However, what the rookie didn’t expect was to post a career-high 19 points to help the Thunder beat the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Abrines knew how important it was for him to see his first couple of shots go through the rim.
“I was feeling pretty good,” Abrines said. “For the shooters, to hit their first shot it gets more easy as you get confidence. So it was important to hit the first two.”
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook collected his 28th triple-double of the season. He scored 17 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field to go with 17 assists and 18 rebounds.
Andre Roberson matched Abrines with 19 points as they combined to hit eight of the team’s 10 3-pointers. Steven Adams collected 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder (33-25).
D’Angelo Russell paced the Lakers (19-41) with 29 points on 12-of-26 shooting from the floor. Jordan Clarkson came off the bench to score 14 points and Julius Randle added 13.
Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ new president of basketball operations, was in the building to watch the team for the first time since taking over. For the players, that means they are playing not only for the present but also for the future.
“It’s good. It like you’re starting over and trying to impress,” Russell said. “It’s like coming to a new team. Trying to impress the GM (general manager) and the guys in the front office with your play, with your off the court and the way you handle yourself. So it’s just all different.”
The Thunder reserves made the biggest impact in the first half. Abrines scorched the Lakers for 10 first-quarter points. That included knocking down two 3-pointers.
Oklahoma City also received strong contributions from its newest members. Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, who were traded from Chicago on Thursday, didn’t hesitate to get involved in their first game with the Thunder. The duo combined for 10 points.
“It felt great,” Gibson said. “I didn’t want to mess up. I was able to calm down and have a lot of fun with the guys. It’s a great group of guys, real unselfish. … I had a great time tonight.”
The Lakers stayed in striking distance throughout the first half. Russell and Clarkson were able to knock down a few jumpers while also driving to the rim for layups.
Los Angeles trailed Oklahoma City 58-51 at halftime.
Abrines once again came out on fire to start the third quarter. He hit three quick 3-pointers as the Thunder stormed ahead to a 73-58 advantage.
The third quarter was a disaster for the Lakers. Not only were they unable to slow down the Thunder, their offense fell apart.
Only Russell seemed to be able to get his shot off as they fell behind by 20 points.
Westbrook reached his triple-double midway through the quarter. He gaves his new teammates a front-row view of what the type of season he has been having.
“It’s a lot better to be with him than against him,” McDermott said of Westbrook.
The Lakers finally found their offense in the fourth quarter as Randle and Ingram joined the party. They were able to cut the Thunder lead to nine with four minutes left but didn’t have enough left in the tank to finish the run.
“I think the key was defense,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “I think we did a very good job of communication. We did a really good job on pick and rolls. I think the most important thing was everybody give 100 percent effort.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer for Eyeamtruth.com

Westbrook paving a new path, on and off the court

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — More than three hours before each game, Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook can be found in the same place. Whether he is on the road or at home. Whether it’s a late West Coast start or even early afternoon in the east. The routine never changes
Before any other players have arrived and almost two hours before the fans are even let into the building, Westbrook is going through warmups on the court.
For close to 30 minutes, Westbrook goes through an assortment of drills while joking, laughing and talking trash with Oklahoma City assistant coach Maurice Cheeks and anyone else who happens to be in his vicinity. His laugh can be heard throughout the nearly empty arena before he scolds assistant coach Royal Ivey for even trying to guard him.
It’s a side of Westbrook seen by very few outside the Thunder organization.
Hours later, as game-time approaches, that side of Westbrook has faded away. In its place are the scowls, the ferocious dunks and the stare-downs — all features of one of the most competitive and unique players in today’s game.
“I just go out and have fun. I don’t know if it’s the most fun I’ve had, but it’s definitely at the top because the group of guys we have,” Westbrook said. “Everybody is so unselfish. Everybody is willing to do great things, and everybody wants to get better. We’re young and blessed to be able to play this game. You can’t do anything but have fun.”
It can easily be said that this NBA season has been all about Westbrook. While many believe the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are destined to meet for a third straight NBA Finals, the Thunder point guard has stolen his share of the headlines with his exploits.
In his ninth year in the league, Westbrook is on the verge of doing something that has only been done once before by averaging a triple-double for the entire season.
That feat is now solely owned by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson during the 1961-62 campaign. But Westbrook is charging his way up the mountain to not only join the Big O, but do it in a much more spectacular way and in less time on the court. Robertson played more than 44 minutes a game while Westbrook is right at 34.
Westbrook’s stat line looks like something you would see only on video games. Heading into February, he had already compiled 24 triple doubles and was averaging 30.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.2 assists per night. He leads the league in scoring and is second in assists.
Even more impressive, Westbrook is 11th in the NBA in rebounding. He is hauling in more boards than DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Vucevic and Tristan Thompson, who are all 7-foot centers. No other guard is ranked inside the top 20.
This season alone, Westbrook has already passed up LeBron James, Fat Lever and Larry Bird on the all-time list for career triple doubles. He sits in fifth place by himself, trailing only the likes of Wilt Chamberlain (78), Jason Kidd (107), Magic Johnson (138) and Robertson (181).
Yet, Westbrook doesn’t want to focus or elaborate on the historical milestones he is reaching.
“I definitely don’t take that for granted,” Westbrook said. “Like I’ve said before, every night I step on the floor I try to compete at a high level and I am thankful that I can play the game that I love every night.”
More often it’s opponents of the Thunder who are more impressed with what Westbrook is doing than the man himself.
“He is putting up phenomenal numbers, I think it really just comes down to heart, passion and will,” Phoenix Center Tyson Chandler said. “Every second he is going full speed, giving 100 percent. He is just putting his will into the game. I have the utmost respect for Russ because at the end of the day, you know what you are going to get. He is going to give you everything he has got every time he steps on the floor, and I really respect that.”
One of the coaches who has faced Westbrook the most during his career is the Dallas Mavericks skipper Rick Carlisle. From regular-season matchups to postseason battles, he has had a front seat view to Westbrook’s exploits.
But even Carlisle is amazed how much Westbrook has elevated his game.
“It’s historic,” Carlisle said. “He is averaging a triple-double. It’s amazing. He has boundless energy and never seems to lose it. The team is playing well. They are a load to deal with because of his greatness as a starting point. The question is whether he can continue it. I don’t see any reason he can’t. To this point, it’s been an amazing accomplishment and should probably be talked about more than it is.”
Westbrook has always been a talented player. There has never been any question about that since he was drafted fourth overall by the Thunder in the 2008 draft.
What Westbrook had to prove is that he was capable of being the type of leader franchises are built around. Up until this season, he’s shared leadership duties with Kevin Durant. But when he left Oklahoma City for Golden State, the Thunder fortunes fell on the shoulders of Westbrook.
As the season has gone on, the questions regarding Durant have become fewer and fewer. Even most visiting media have moved on.
But that will change with the Warriors coming to Oklahoma City on Feb. 11 and the All-Star game right around the corner, where both Westbrook and Durant will be on the same team.
Yet, Westbrook contends the only players he thinks about are the ones in a Thunder uniform.
The first thing Westbrook did to solidly himself as the face of the franchise was to sign a contract extension in the offseason that will keep him here through at least next season.
The next step was to transform himself into a player that can not only be great, but make those around him better. It’s a task he looks to be getting a handle on.
“I remember my first game was at Charlotte, and from the first game he gave me so much confidence. I mean whenever I am out there on the floor with him, he just gives me so much confidence,” Thunder forward Enes Kanter said. “He makes the game so much easier for everyone around him. That is what a really special player does. And then you see him on the court, and he’s not just cool on the court, but off the floor too he is a really good friend and a really good locker room guy that is always talking to players and tries to get the young guys involved too. He’s amazing.”
Off the court, Westbrook has never hidden from his responsibilities to his organization or community. Whether it’s appearing at various team-wide community events and Christmas shopping sprees, or using his foundation to build reading rooms at elementary schools and hosting Thanksgiving dinner for underprivileged families, he doesn’t shy away from his responsibility.
That includes speaking up on tough topics. Earlier in the year, he stated strong opinions against the election of Donald Trump as President. Friday, he said current players in the league need a better understanding of the importance of Black History Month.
“A lot of people may not know. We’ve got a lot of younger guys in the league that may not understand African-American culture,” Westbrook said. “For me I know that was important, that’s something I studied in college. To be able to know your history, know your background, know where you’re from, and how we’re able to do the things we do today, I think it’s important, not just for people in the NBA, but everybody across the world to have a good understanding of what Black History Month is.”
These are comments fans would not have heard two or three years ago.
The 2016-17 season has in many aspects been a new start for Westbrook. While he isn’t reinventing himself, he is providing more glimpses of who of who he is and who he can become.
“It’s the things off the floor,” Westbrook said on the fun he’s having. “Being able to chat with guys, not just on the basketball court but in the locker room, taking guys out to dinner, and having team events. To be able to do that and to see another guy do well and you are happy for them, that’s a blessing to be able to do that inside of a team. Nothing can break that bond.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer at Eyeamtruth.com

Pelicans can’t slow down surging Thunder

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis have a lot in common. Besides being among the best athletes to ever play their respective positions, both have shouldered the weight of their teams by themselves this season.
So it was no surprise that when the top two scorers in the NBA faced off Sunday, each would put up amazing numbers and make improbable highlight-reel plays.
But the key was going to be which of the superstars would get the most help from their supporting cast. On this night, it was Westbrook who received the most support as the Thunder held on to a 101-92 victory over the Pelicans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I’ve been incorporating my teammates since I’ve been in the league,” Westbrook said. “I want to make sure that’s known. Now it’s just finding guys and making it easy for them. Finding better ways. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned different tricks and have passed them on to my teammates.”
Despite the help, it didn’t to overshadow the individual brilliance of Westbrook, who collected his 10th triple-double of the season. His 28 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists and 10 turnovers extended his triple-double streak to five consecutive games. That’s the longest of his career and the longest in the NBA since Michael Jordan posted seven straight in 1989 with the Chicago Bulls.
“It’s just a blessing,” Westbrook said. “I’m very, very blessed to be able to play the game I love. Like I’ve said before, I never take it for granted. Every time I step on the floor, I’m blessed beyond belief.”
Thunder center Enes Kanter posted 17 points and 12 boards. Victor Oladipo added 15 points as Oklahoma City improved to 13-8.
“Everybody helped out,” Kanter said. “It was team defense and we did a pretty good job.”
The Pelicans were led by Anthony Davis, who had 37 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. Rookie Buddy Hield broke out of a slump and scored 16 points as he made his first return trip back to the state where he played college basketball. Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore each scored 10 points as New Orleans fell to 7-14.
“I thought we had our opportunities,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we had our chances. We just didn’t take advantage of it. I thought we did about as good of a job on Russell in the first half as you can do. That being said, the guy still ends up with 17 rebounds, 11 assists, 27 points or whatever it is.”
After being down by as much as 15 points, the Pelicans cut the lead to seven with three minutes left. Davis had a chance to get the lead down to five, but he missed back-to-back shots on the same possession.
Westbrook made New Orleans pay with a fast-break finger roll to push advantage back to 93-85 with 2:39 on the clock.
Oladipo made 1 of 2 free throws before Hield drained back to back 3-pointers. The Pelicans were only down 94-90.
“It felt better making shots,” Hield said of his second-half performance. “It’s been a long time since I had a feel like that. It felt great just seeing the ball go through the net with me struggling for a couple of games. I felt more confident and I felt like it will help me in the long run.”
Westbrook stopped the run when he went to the charity stripe and hit a pair of free throws. But Davis scored on the other end to put back deficit to four.
Davis came up with a block shot on Kanter and it gave New Orleans a chance to get within one basket. But Hield missed a tough layup in traffic.
That led to Westbrook draining a 3-pointer to put the game away.
“I don’t think I have any words to describe him,” Kanter said of Westbrook. “English is my second language.”
The Thunder hit only hit 6 of 28 from 3-point range, but won the rebounding battle 59-51.
Thunder center Steven Adams had his hands full guarding Davis to start the night. Even though Davis is listed as a power forward, the Thunder put Adams on him instead of rookie Domantas Sabonis, who lacks the size, mobility and experience to guard Davis.
With Adams injuring his ankle in the first quarter and unable to return to the game, Kanter came off the bench and had a strong first half to make up for the loss.
Davis played almost 23 minutes in the first half, so coach Alvin Gentry gave him a long rest in the third. This allowed the Thunder to pull out to a 12-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
“We just missed a lot of easy shots,” Davis said. “I think they got 62 points in the paint. For us, offensively, we just missed a lot of easy shots. A lot of wide-open shots, layups. Definitely just one of those games. They made some big shots at the end.”

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